To comply with Coronavirus stay-at-home orders, some organizations have asked that employees work from home, where possible. In this article we discuss home working mental health risks employers should consider, and how they can be managed.

The COVID-19, or Coronavirus outbreak, has led to lockdowns and social distancing measures throughout the US. For many organizations, this has meant that they have asked their employees to work from home where possible.

Technology has allowed many businesses to work ‘as usual’ from home. In these unprecedented times ‘usual’ can be hard to sustain, especially for those who live alone and those who are classed as lone workers.

Working from home challenges

Working from home in normal circumstances can lead to feelings of isolation, but this is even more likely when abiding to stay-at-home measures. Isolation and the anxiety caused by the uncertainty of the impact of the Coronavirus means many employees may be at risk of suffering from mental health issues.
For many, these challenges increase with the added stress of looking after children who may be unable to attend school or supporting loved ones who become ill and need care. There is also the inability to rely on the support systems that were in place before Coronavirus measures were announced.

Employers need to consider assessing their home working employees to identify if additional mental health support can be provided – whether this is in the form of access to a clinician remotely or additional guidance.

Communication channels

Communication is more important than ever when teams are separated by home working. Not only is communication important to the day-to-day operations employees may need to complete, but also in monitoring the mental health of employees.

To promote maintaining healthy communication many employers are recommending that line managers create time during the working week, in addition to work-related communication, for staying in touch with their teams. Many employers are continuing weekly social activities such as Friday work drinks or post-weekend team catch-ups, using technology such as Skype or Zoom to maintain morale.

Employers should also communicate to employees that they understand the unusual circumstances many may find themselves in. This, and promoting openness within teams to discuss mental health is important in these uncertain times – especially as we don’t know how long lockdown measures may be in place.

Promoting regular routines

When working at home, maintaining a routine can be difficult. Without our normal commutes or set in-office meeting times, many can find it challenging to maintain regular work outputs, which can increase anxieties.

Employers should encourage their employees to maintain their previous routines, where possible. If an employee previously left to go to work at 7 am – general advice is that they should continue to wake at the same time and use spare time to prepare their bodies and minds for work with other activities such as indoor exercise.

Employers should also try to encourage line managers to maintain previous team meetings or one-to-ones on a similar schedule so employees still feel they have the opportunity to maintain communication and be in contact with their teams.

Mental health assessments

If possible, employers should try to encourage mental health self-assessments. Some employees may not feel comfortable discussing mental health issues with co-workers or their line managers – and in these cases, self-assessment can be better in identifying those with increased mental health risks.

Employers should also make sure they identify employees with additional risks which may make mental health issues as a result of home working, more likely. Lone workers may suffer from feelings of isolation faster than those who live with others. Employees with existing health conditions or disabilities may also find the current circumstances more stressful – and therefore, may require more employer support.

Legal implications

Many organizations are concerned about the legal implications of requiring employees to work at home. As mentioned in our Coronavirus Remote Working Q&A article, it is unlikely that employers will be legally implicated for the conditions or effects of employees working at home, to comply with Coronavirus stay-at-home measures.

Employers should focus on acting responsibly and in the best interest of their employees, within reason, not out of fear of legal repercussions.

Many businesses are doing everything they can to continue to support employees. The measures put in place to slow the spread of Coronavirus means many employers are limited in the support they can provide. It’s important to be pragmatic in times like these, and flexible.

Cardinus Resources

The Cardinus Health Working app is the world’s most widely used ergonomics e-learning and self-assessment software. It is designed to help employees manage their workstation discomfort and in the next week, we will be adding additional home working resources to the app.

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A leader looks forlornly out of the window during the coronavirus crisis