Supporting the mental health of remote workers over winter in summary…
- Supporting the mental health of remote workers during the winter months should be a priority for HR teams. This is because a combination of isolation, reduced daylight and the potential for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can all take their toll on a person’s mental wellbeing.
- If you have large numbers of remote workers, supporting their mental health during the winter months is crucial. Not just from an employee wellbeing perspective, but for the sake of business performance.
- Luckily, HR teams can play a pivotal role in supporting the mental health of remote workers over the winter months through several key initiatives. These include promoting a healthy work-life balance, offering work flexibility, organising virtual social events, providing training for managers and celebrating workplace successes.
The clocks have wound back, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. Winter is firmly upon us and for many, it can be an incredibly difficult time of year.
The start of winter can trigger the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a condition that affects around 2 million people in the UK and over 12 million in Northern Europe. Commonly referred to as the ‘Winter Blues’, it’s a form of seasonal depression that occurs typically during the autumn and winter months.
Whilst SAD can affect just about anyone, remote or home workers may be more susceptible to its effects. Remote workers often spend more time indoors, potentially exacerbating the lack of light exposure. This reduced light exposure can also impact the body’s internal biological clock, leading to disrupted sleep-wake cycles and mood disturbances.
“People may experience more severe SAD when working from home for a number of reasons. Mainly, it’s because we’re no longer leaving the house for things like our lunchbreak or our commute. Many people who suffer with SAD find getting out makes them feel more energised – even if only for a short stroll – and even through the clouds, the daylight can help to boost your mood.” – Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK
It’s not just the long winter months that can bring on poor mental health for remote workers. A reported 80% of UK workers believe working remotely harms their mental health, mainly due to feeling alone and isolated. And, according to the SHRM, remote and hybrid workers tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues than their shared-workspace counterparts.
With all those factors in mind, it’s imperative that HR teams have initiatives in place to support mental wellbeing of their remote workers – especially during the long winter months.
How HR can combat SAD and support the mental health of remote workers through winter
With positive mental wellbeing a key component of successful, thriving company cultures, it’s in every HR team’s best interest to support the mental health of their workforce – especially those who work from home or in isolation.
Luckily, the following initiatives can help HR play a significant role in providing that support and maintain happier, healthier workplace cultures year-round.
Bring Seasonal Affective Disorder into the open
First and foremost, highlighting what SAD is to your employees is a great way to raise awareness. Many sufferers may not actually know why they feel particularly downcast over the winter months, so shining a light on the issue can help prevent it becoming a more serious problem.
HR software that includes HR portals and shared workspaces can be used to provide information about SAD and its symptoms to your workforce. You could even provide links to reputable websites (such as the NHS for example) for people to find trustworthy information on the affliction. Most importantly though, encourage your employees to seek professional help if they believe they’re experiencing symptoms of SAD
Promote a healthy work-life balance
If people feel they’re struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance when working remotely, they’ll likely be more stressed, less productive and even resentful of their work. In addition, our report into modern employer-employee relationships discovered that a healthy work-life balance was key to workplace satisfaction.
So, encourage your employees to set clear boundaries between work and personal life, and help them understand the importance of regularly ‘switching off’ from the world of work. Highlighting the importance of taking annual leave is one way to do this. It gives everyone a chance to reset and recharge away from the pressures of the daily grind, plus it can also give your staff something to look forward to.
Consider flexible working arrangements
Although home and remote working are popular with many, it can be difficult for those who work from home full-time to juggle their personal and professional lives.
If the needs of the business allow it, investigate whether there could be more flexibility in your employees’ working hours. This can help all your employees make the most of daylight hours and accommodate their own personal needs. If you want to learn more about introducing flexible working arrangements, just follow this link.
Encourage regular physical activity and self-care
Regular physical activities can do wonders for mental health. Even just a brisk walk out in the open can increase mental alertness, energy and lift moods.
It makes sense then, to encourage employees to stay active during the winter months as much as they can to maintain both physical and mental health. Your shared workspaces and portals can again play a vital role here as they can be used to provide information about local gyms, online workouts or stress management techniques – all brilliant for combating SAD.
Offer workspace support
A poor home working environment can be hugely damaging to a person’s mood – especially as the days grow shorter and weather worsens. A cramped, dimly-lit or chaotic workspace can make it difficult to focus on work, or even amplify those negative feelings of isolation and loneliness.
To prevent this, consider how you could ensure your remote or home workers have a comfortable and well-lit workspace. Conducting a workstation assessment is a great place to start and will help you to understand if your remote workers have at least everything they need to complete their duties effectively. You could also offer resources or guidance for setting up an ergonomic home office that support better mental wellbeing.
Organise virtual social events and encourage regular communications
Virtual gatherings may feel very 2020, but with so many people now working from home on a full-time basis, they still have a vital part to play in supporting positive workplace cultures and wellbeing.
Organising or encouraging your managers to hold virtual gatherings and team-building activities can combat feelings of isolation and foster a sense of belonging. Having regular check-ins – perhaps in the form of a morning or weekly progress meeting – are also a great way for managers to maintain regular communications with remote-working employees, and ensure no-one feels alone or isolated.
Provide training for managers
The physical separation between managers and their teams can make it more challenging to detect when an employee is struggling. Identifying signs of poor mental health, such as changes in behaviour, decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, or self-isolation, allows managers to intervene early, offering support and resources.
With that in mind, look to provide training to your managers on recognising signs of mental health issues – such as SAD – and how to support employees effectively. This proactive approach can prevent the escalation of seasonal mental health issues, boost employee wellbeing, and ultimately improve both productivity and job satisfaction.
Additionally, you may also want to consider introducing mental health first aiders in your organisation. You can read more about them and their importance here.
Acknowledge and celebrate workplace achievements
Working remotely can sometimes lead to feelings of disconnection from friends and colleagues. Acknowledging and celebrating remote workers’ successes is a great motivation technique. Plus, it also fosters that all-important positive work culture and reinforces their value within the company.
When the achievements of remote workers are acknowledged and celebrated, morale can be boosted and feelings of loneliness can be dispelled. Plus, a culture of recognition will contribute to better mental wellbeing and job satisfaction amongst an entire workforce – so it’s a win-win all round!
Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. He’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years, and has won multiple industry awards for his work.