Diminishing Connections: Safeguarding Mental Health when working from home.

Written by Lois Williams

 

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This year has been challenging for us all both personally and professionally

 

A recent study by mental health charity Mind found that 60% of adults and 68% of young people felt their mental health deteriorate during lockdown; it’s never been more important to prioritise our mental wellbeing. In addition to protecting their employees from the risk of COVID-19, employers now have an increased responsibility to support the mental health of their people, many of whom have been faced with the uncertainty of furlough, financial worries, job insecurity and, for some, bereavement.

Many of these issues are compounded by some of the effects of working from home.

Living and working within the same four walls has tested us with the monotony of yet another day spent at the kitchen table, or even the sofa, deprived of human connection and sensory stimulation. Despite the unrelenting Zoom calls, company culture is being diluted and our sense of belonging can feel like it’s disintegrating. Interpersonal relationships are essential for our health, as a protective factor against a build-up of stress, and also for increasing wellbeing and feeling like part of a team.

Many of us had to quickly adjust to being physically isolated from our colleagues. Despite notable benefits such as having no commute and better focus, no extreme is a good thing, and the implications on homeworker’s wellbeing have been significant. World Mental Health Day is a great opportunity for organisations to focus on developing their support framework, raise awareness and encourage positive change for the mental health of their workforce.

Humans are social beings and evolutionarily relied on each other to survive. 

 

Translated into modern life, we are no longer reliant on others for our daily survival, but to thrive we need deep, meaningful connections. Loneliness has been shown to cause changes to the brain, leading to stress, anxiety and depression. Other recent research has found that chronic isolation can have implications on our cardiovascular health, immune and nervous systems – particularly pertinent during these uncertain times. With the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic paired with the enduring isolation of remote working, it’s no surprise that many people are feeling their mental health deteriorating and experiencing a reduction in motivation and engagement at work.

The Workplace Wellbeing Index published by Mind showed that only 55% of employees felt their manager supported their mental health. Organisations should focus on improving line-manager awareness of mental health and stress management, as well as equipping them with the skills to spot the signs and to have supportive conversations. There are many worthwhile Mental Health First Aid courses which offer support and training for all staff. At Interaction, we’ve partnered with Mates In Mind, an organisation dedicated to improving workplace mental health.

Particularly vulnerable are new starters and younger employees, who may find it more difficult than average to be isolated at home.

 

It’s a huge challenge onboarding someone who has never physically met their team in or experienced company culture. With new employees dispersed, the organic, unstructured “learning by osmosis” that takes place from sharing space with experienced employees has turned into scheduled interaction and formal training.While digital channels help bridge the communication gap, they’re not perfect: genuine connection happens between people, utilising eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice and behavioural non-verbal cues to develop meaningful relationships.

New ways of working have reminded us of the importance of the workplace as a space in which we form connections, transfer knowledge and skills, feel like we belong, establish a physical boundary from home, and keep morale and motivation thriving. The purpose of the workplace has been redefined by new ways of working: offices will be designed to support the social, collaborative nature of work.

What we’ve termed “workplace philosophy” will be more vital than ever;  ensuring your business functions seamlessly, with a flexible, unified culture across all touchpoints and workspaces. Looking after your mental health is important, but it doesn’t have to involve an hour of chanting at a sunset. Mind has launched the #DoOneThing campaign in honour of World Mental Health Day. The aim is to make gradual improvements to mental health by taking one action each day throughout the month.

 

Take a look at the ideas below and see if you could implement one thing into your WFH routine;

 

  • Go for a short walk before work or on your lunch break – to get oxygen flowing round the body, elevate mood and boost energy levels.
  • Do some gentle exercise like stretching or yoga – to relieve tension, reduce stress levels and blood pressure.
  • Get an indoor plant – bringing the outdoors in helps to create a tranquil environment and improve oxygen levels indoors.
  • Call someone instead of emailing – to feel connected with other people.
  • Have a cuppa (virtually or in person) with a colleague – to develop relationships and feel a sense of belonging.
  • Do a crossword or sudoku – to stimulate the brain and focus the mind solely on the present.
  • Do something nice for a friend or stranger – to create positive feelings and sense of self-worth.
  • Find out something about your friends or colleagues – to deepen relationships and provide emotional support to others.

If you’d like to find out more about how to create an environment for your company to thrive, get in touch:

Lois.Williams@interaction.uk.com