Those of us who can work from home, or are choosing to keep working from home, are facing a specific set of challenges. In the first couple of weeks it was a sudden jolt into a new way of working; but after two months, it’s a very different story. Whether it’s the monotony that’s getting to us, or the constant uncertainty, or the isolation… there are mental health impacts that we all need to be aware of.
As managers, you’re responsible for ensuring the wellbeing of your team as well as business outcomes…and this is a situation that no one was prepared for. It’s hard to keep tabs on the wellbeing and mental health of your team members at the best of times, but with so much distance, what are the signs you need to watch out for? What are the signs that someone might be struggling?
Often, when we are struggling and we don’t know what to do, we hide. With remote working this is all-the-easier to do; particularly if you have been furloughed. Part of managing the wellbeing of your team is to do with working out who might be more ‘at risk’. This includes the people in your team who are open about their mental health struggles, but also – perhaps even more so – those who are not open about them. If you feel someone disengaging, avoiding team meetings, and dodging calls, then make sure you have open communication lines and are able to have a conversation about this before making assumptions about their behaviour.
Taking or needing a lot of time off… and not explaining why
More and more we’re normalising the idea of taking ‘mental health days’ where needed. However, there is a long way to go and many people still don’t feel comfortable asking for this. If an employee is needing time off – just a handful of times, or more regularly – it’s worth checking in to see what’s going on. Again, it’s all in the approach. This isn’t an attack where they have to justify the time off, but a conversation to understand if there is a mental health element to the time off, and if so, to open a dialogue about how to address any issues rather than jumping to disciplinary action.
They’re easily irritated
This could just be sign of (quite normal and understandable) stress, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Rather than responding with irritation, try and see if there’s something more that underpins this behaviour. Individuals with good mental health tend to be able to regulate their emotions, whereas those who are experiencing poor mental health tend to get frustrated or irritated more easily. If you notice that an employee’s approach to projects or their behaviour towards co-workers has changed, see if you can check in and find out if there’s something more behind it.
Confusion, distraction, lack of focus
Often, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we tend to suffer from confusion, distraction or an inability to focus. This does not necessarily signal a mental health issue in and of itself, but alongside other signs, can be an indication that someone is struggling. In particular, lapses in memory are a more noticeable sign of being overwhelmed.
A change in their usual behaviour or attitudes
After working in isolation for such a long time, this is uncharted territory in terms of mental health. People that had previously not struggled may now find that they are starting to struggle. Any negative change in the behaviour of your team members could be due to any number of factors that relate to poor mental health: a lack of motivation, hopelessness about the future, a feeling of worry about job loss, money and so on. In fact, research from 2019 suggested that in the UK, 77% of workers admit that money worries affect their ability to do their job. This shows the diverse range of issues that contribute to poor mental health at work – again, the key is to discuss the factors affecting your team. In the case of financial worries, you could offer online personal finance courses or seminars on furlough, the state of the business.
The onus is on the employee to help you to understand how poor mental health – whether these are pre-existing conditions or have surfaced as a result of the stresses and strains of Covid-19 – might impact on their ability to do their job. This is how we can work out how best to support our people.