Firms should identify the pressures of home working that lead to mental health issues, writes BILL MAGEE
Stress in the workplace is a personal thing. For one person it can represent a fascinating challenge helping them to crack a key deal. For a close colleague it can tip them over the edge and trigger distress affecting their mental health.
It’s a situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and an acceleration in the practice of working from home where being online hour-after-hour can carry with it the threat of, well, feeling remote.
Offices.co.uk’s CEO and founder Jonathan Ratcliffe warns of a mental health “perfect storm” on the winter horizon, created by a combination of the recent Coronavirus lockdown, economic anxiety, enforced social distancing, poor weather and isolation. Add to this another lockdown?
He claims we’re facing the biggest mental health crisis since World War Two, citing UK Office of National Statistics showing 69% of adults state the pandemic is having a negative effect on their life.
The Harvey Nash Tech Survey 2020 highlights how most of us will have experienced waking up early one morning and shuddering a little about work. Perhaps there is a big presentation to make or a difficult conversation to be had?
For the most part this stress is all about working life. At times it can give us the necessary “push” to get the job done. But sometimes that shudder reaches more widely and deeply, lasting much longer and detaching from its original cause.
CEO Albert Ellis told me that according to survey respondents – totalling 2008 in number in 72 countries including Scotland, and with 110 different job titles – this is when stress can turn into distress.
He cites the following warning signs: you’re more likely to be concerned if you work 60+ hours a week; work for a small company; work in IT operations or in retail or leisure; have to cope amidst staff shortages; or in an organisation being held back by lack of available on-board skills.
Employers, in turn, should be aware of the following: staff shortages, meaning an employee is covering more than one job; the organisation is currently working on a particularly complex project; the executive team doesn’t understand the time needed to develop, plot and implement a new technology; the balance of keeping the lights on with developing innovative tech becomes a heavy burden.
The list goes on: “always on” tech, such as work emails on an employee’s phone not allowing him/her to switch off; tech being driven outside the IT team creates a lot of issues and additional work; the tech lead in a business isn’t a good manager; not enough is invested in external specialists to help deliver large digital projects.
What’s described as striking is the correlation between mental health and how supportive an organisation is to its staff. Worryingly, the report concludes “unsupportive” organisations are almost three times more likely to have people who are concerned about their mental health.
This statistic extends to employer attitudes towards flexible working. ie just how flexible the organisation is when it comes to enabling staff to work outwith the office and their executive eye. Which brings me back to home working.
‘Over 70 million working days are lost every year in the UK to anxiety, stress and depression’
My journalistic and 5-a-side buddy Colin Leslie, who now has a proper job as communications and fundraising manager for Support in Mind Scotland, points to a quite phenomenal statistic. Over 70 million working days are lost every year in the UK to anxiety, stress and depression, not only damaging the economy and business, but also proving devastating for the individuals and their families.
Colin, who is also a board member/trustee of Make 2nds Count, says businesses are invited to try out a range of refreshed courses his charity has designed, informed by nearly 50 years of experience supporting people with such problems and illnesses, whether an organisation is writing a new strategy or simply wants to support staff to keep well at work.
Given this lingering pandemic, it’s the wise business that takes up such an offer of help.
In such uncertain times one factor I am certain about. The idiot who uses tech to track his employees’ hours, online keystrokes, mouse movements and websites visited doesn’t deserve those working within his organisation.