In July 2020, Wellcome Trust director Prof Sir Jeremy Farrar told the House of Commons’ Health Committee “humanity would be living with the COVID-19 for “decades””. Since this statement, while the tangible impact of deaths in the UK has risen to over 50,000 people, Covid 19 mental health impact is still immeasurable.
Now, in November 2020, we are in our second national lockdown and the advice includes people being told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, such as work which cannot be done from home.
So businesses have to make a decision: do they ask staff to return to the office or not ?
The follow-on questions from this would include how do we help people to work from home and do we tell people to come back for the weeks between December 2 and Christmas?
Home working is great concept but it can take its toll. Experienced homeworkers are used to a routine – something that pandemic-induced homeworkers may be struggling with.
I host regular MS Teams meetings with HR and Talent Leaders with some of the largest employers in the country.
In my November meeting, we talked about home working and mental health and the COVID-19 mental health impact.
The opinion in the room seemed broadly balanced between having people back to corporate locations and enabling effective home working.
With the argument for getting people back to work, we were referred to the number of people on social media (specifically, LinkedIn) extolling the virtues of working from home.
The counter to this was that this is a reflection of those talking publicly about their choice but there may well be a silent majority.
One senior leader stated that, “we know that we are hurting the wellbeing of our people; we need to make a decision and stick to it” with references to shifting government policies meaning that business has to react accordingly.
Some organisations have already embraced a form of permanent home working (Litha Group had this policy from its launch in early 2019).
For example, Twitter have told their staff that employees will be able to continue working from home as long as they see fit.
Other organisations are inviting staff to come back to work in 2021 (e.g. Amazon, Box, Google, PayPal, Salesforce).
“Office centricity is over”
(Tobi Lutke, Shopify CEO, May 2020)
According to a Gallup poll, half of Americans who now work remotely said they want to continue doing so even after restrictions on business are lifted.
I know of one major Financial Organisation who has instructed all staff to work remotely until March, BUT the infrastructure is not in place so customer calls go unanswered and they are actively losing customers.
Another organisation has decided to close a number of city centre offices. This may save some money but causing the city centre businesses that rely on city workers to potentially close.
The simple fact is that many people do not have the ability to work effectively from home: just because you have a laptop and an internet connection does not mean remote work is possible.
A former colleague of mine lives in a house-share with 3 other adults. They have all been told to work from home 9 to 5 every day. That household has one kitchen table suitable for Zoom (other apps are available, of course). When you consider the hit on bandwidth, some sitting on their bed in their room, and the cloistered environment you start to see the difficulty.
This doesn’t include the issue of boundaries – home working doesn’t mean that people are ‘at home’.
None of the people in the house-share can work effectively or comfortably and none of them have any indication as to when they can return to the office.
This may be a cause of anxiety to some people – they want to work from a corporate location, but can’t. This lack of choice as to how to work can cause stress. Even if your employer wants you at your desk, it may not be possible. So it’s not even a case of looking for a new job because we’re all in the same boat.
The final thoughts from the MS Teams Meetup was that, if you are an employer asking people to work remotely, you have a duty to ensure that they have the tools to do so effectively.
This does not mean making a contribution to broadband cost, but issuing the right equipment (sitting on a kitchen chair for 8 hours can be very uncomfortable). You also need to think of the effect on your employee’s wellbeing and mental health.
Simply, people are suffering – and, from my many conversations with HR leaders, this suffering is causing HR professionals a lot of angst.
Helping to create the right kind of physical and psychological environment has never been more important to HR as the Covid-19 Mental Health impact.
More than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) report feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life. The most common issues affecting wellbeing are worrying about the future (63%), feeling stressed or anxious (56%) and feeling bored (49%).
(Office for National Statistics, June 2020)
Anil Aphale is a highly-regarded business professional who has been working with HR and recruitment teams in the corporate sector for over 30 years.
With a focus on HR solutions, he has helped to shape solutions around recruitment processes, employer brands and employee engagement.
Anil has been at the forefront of HR technology changes is to introduce Litha’s conversation and psychology solutions to forward-looking organisations in the UK & Eire.
“At a time when Employee Wellbeing is front of mind and growing in importance, I am excited about how Litha Group have developed a range of solutions that are set to change the way corporations and individuals look at, measure and react to wellbeing and mental health awareness in the work place.”