Across the country, employees who have previously not worked from home are having to cope with a sudden change to their working patterns which will likely involve less interaction, support and supervision than they have previously experienced. This is not a good recipe for employees’ mental health.
A key step to take, therefore, is to ensure that employees feel connected. Whilst face-to-face contact is generally not possible at this time, there are many applications which will give the ability to see your colleagues – be that Microsoft Teams, Zoom or the more social applications such as Houseparty, Facetime or WhatsApp (other apps are available!). Emails can often lack the personal nature of relationships, but that’s not to say that we should reduce our reliance on emails, which will obviously be fundamental to business relationships in the coming months.
Employees will also benefit with the basis of a routine. Those who work at home regularly will be aware of the advice that you still get up at the same time and wear normal clothes rather than staying in bed late and working in your pyjamas. The employer can take this on board by keeping these routines present for the employees. Scheduling a weekly meeting or catch up creates a consistent pattern to be followed, which will present some more normality in a greatly changed working life.
Working from home can also blur the lines between personal and professional lives. If someone’s home is also their workspace, then at what stage do they stop working? This can be unhealthy in that it encourages employees to feel as if they are constantly on call. Unless necessary, try to avoid sending emails outside of the typical work hours and encourage your employees to do the same. Whilst this cannot always be avoided, it is far better for employees wellbeing.
The above should be straightforward. However, failing to adhere to it can bring its own risks to the business. Firstly, mental health disorders, such as stress or anxiety, can be disabilities under the Equality Act 2010 (if the stress or anxiety has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to do normal daily activities). Failing to adequately look out for employees suffering from stress or anxiety could lead to various claims being brought against the business, such as a claim for reasonable adjustments. Secondly, employers have a duty of care to their employees, and a statutory duty to ensure their health and safety. Failing to look out for employees' mental health can be a breach of these duties which could lead to personal injury claims or claims for breach of contract. Notwithstanding the above, employers who do not look out for their employees are more likely to have unhappy employees – when business starts to pick up, what’s to stop them from deciding that the grass is greener elsewhere?
What does this mean for you or your business, and what should you be doing now?
This is an opportunity to come together as a business and show your employees that you care by supporting them as best you can. Have regular catch ups with your teams and employees and listen to how they are doing so that you can make the adjustments necessary to help them in working from home.
If the above is not considered, you are leaving your employees adrift which increases the risk of employees being unproductive, leaving, or potentially bringing claims against the business.
ACAS has provided guidance for employers and employees which can be found HERE.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.