Many employees jump at the chance to work from home. They imagine a world where they don’t have to commute, where they get to play their music loud, and where it’s perfectly acceptable to wear pyjamas to work. But there’s another, darker side to remote working that’s often overlooked: the negative impact it has on your employees’ mental health. Recent figures released by the CIPD show UK businesses lose around £100 million every year due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. So if you employ remote workers—not just home workers but anyone who spends long periods away from your main HQ—it’s important you know what the risks are and how to minimise them. Unexpected problems While remote working can remove typical work stresses like commuting, it can also create a whole set of new ones that your staff might not be prepared for… 1. Isolation Some people prefer working from home because they don’t have to deal with distractions from other colleagues, office politics and overbearing managers. But we humans are social animals, and even your most anti-social remote workers may soon find themselves feeling lonely and alienated. Being away from the main office also means that remote workers don’t have the same access to a support network that your on-site staff do. So when they have a problem—either personal or work-related, they won’t have anyone to turn to. Solution: Check in with your remote workers on a regular basis. Even a simple phone call to check how they’re coping with their workload can work wonders. You should also meet your remote workers in person every now and then. 2. No separation between work and home life When your staff start working from home, they may think it’ll be easier for them to juggle work and family. The reality is that these two responsibilities often get in each other’s way. Problems that your staff could have put off until they got home from work are now staring them in the face all day, resulting in severe stress. Imagine having to look after kids, pick up groceries and do housework while also trying to meet a tight deadline. Solution: Encourage your home workers to come up with strategies to make sure home life doesn’t interfere with work during ‘office’ hours. One idea is to create a home office, or at least a space devoted only to working. Failing that, a simple ‘Do not disturb sign’ will also work. 3. Increased pressure to deliver If your staff are working away from the office, it may be tempting to monitor them more closely than you would your on-site employees. But if your remote workers feel pressure to always be ‘on’—either from you or their colleagues— this will have a devastating effect on their mental health. Studies have shown that remote workers are online more and worker longer hours than on-site staff because they don’t want to give the impression they’re shirking their responsibilities. Solution: Help your employees to set limits. Encourage them to stick to their contracted hours and make sure they’re taking regular lunch breaks. Train your staff and reap the rewards None of this is to say that remote working is inherently bad. Some people thrive when they can dictate their own schedule and hop back and forth between work and personal chores. And the benefits of ensuring all your workers are happy can be enormous. Studies have repeatedly shown that businesses that emphasise healthy living and make employee engagement a priority do better financially. If you prepare your staff for the risks of remote work before they start, they’ll be happier and will contribute to your success.
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