MHE aims to provide helpful information to as many people as possible on how communities, including experts by experience, service providers, mental health leaders, governments and policy makers, researchers and others, can support people efficiently through the current crisis and beyond.
In this interview series with MHE members and partners, we discuss the impact of the pandemic on their lives and work and which measures they are taking or can be taken to cope with the situation. These testimonies underline the importance of putting mental health higher on the European agenda, during the crisis and afterwards, while offering a personal side and shared expertise for people within the mental health sector, decision makers, and anyone interested in improving mental health for all.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many people to work from home. Home settings are not always ideal: from those who live on their own and might experience isolation, to those who share their house with others (like flatmates or their family). How can people best adapt to enforced or unplanned homeworking?
A survey we did to look at the experience of homeworkers in the first weeks of the lockdown points to four challenges:
There are four things that homeworkers can do to make things better and to thrive at work:
Stay connected with colleagues as well as friends and families. It is important not to forget external connections.
How does the idea of “right to disconnect” fit into this new way of working?
There is a lot of debate about this topic and there have been various attempts across Europe to legislate on the right of workers to disconnect. I had a look at how successful these attempts have been and there is not much evidence, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, to suggest that the right to disconnect works or is enforceable, particularly through regulations.
What we know from the research is that workers want control and want to feel trusted to work when they want to work. It is the discretion and control that makes most difference.
The objective of the right to disconnect is well-meaning and a more voluntary approach seems to be the one that works best. Germany, for instance, has a more laissez-faire approach: individual employers are setting rules in collaboration with their employees.
Workers want control and want to feel trusted to work when they want to work. It is the discretion and control that makes most difference.
Managers also play an important role to provide employees with the support they need to work from home. What could managers do in these circumstances? And what type of managerial styles could work better?
Managers are in the middle: they are in between the employees and the managers above them, so it is important to pay attention of the mental health of managers as well since this is a difficult time for them too.
When they are managing people, they need to be clear about what they are expecting of people and they need to be more empathetic and compassionate. They also need to be more flexible in recognising that people have different needs and caring responsibilities and might not be able to be as productive for the whole week as they were previously.
Our survey also shows that regular, supportive communication between managers and staff can positively impact the mental health of workers. Conversely, if people feel that their managers are ignoring or abandoning them, this can start a slow decline into depression or anxiety.
In term of managerial styles, some managers think that a random act of kindness towards their staff is an act of weakness. We are living in times where we cannot have this sort of attitude: we need managers to be very sensitive, particularly because homeworking does not allow to detect signals of distress through body language. Managers need to be ultra-sensitive and observant to changes in mood and the mental health of their employees.
Supportive communication between managers and staff can positively impact the mental health of workers.
What practices should be set in place by organisations and workplaces in general? How can organisational structures enable managers to fulfil their support role to staff?
Our work indicates that the following organisational practices could provide better support to workers:
Given the challenges we are facing, actions cannot only come from workers and their employers. What should governments do to provide support to both workers and businesses? What kind of policies are more conducive to mentally health workplaces when homework is required?
This is obviously a difficult time for governments. In this particular situation, to preserve the mental health of workers, regulation is not something that needs to happen. The role of policy makers should be more to provide information and guidance.
One of the areas in which there is a regulatory gap is the implementation of health and safety legislation in home settings. Employer retains a legal duty of care of the health of their workers, even when they work from home. Governments could provide guidance on how to conduct risk assessments of people’s physical and mental health when homeworking. They could also help employers connect with each other to share good practice and introduce incentives for employers to use support interventions such as Employee Assistance Programmes.
To preserve the mental health of workers, regulation is not something that needs to happen. The role of policy makers should be more to provide information and guidance.
These exceptional circumstances are forcing everyone to take quick actions and find creative solutions. Once lockdown measures will start to loosen up, what will be the lessons learned and lockdown practices/habits that might be worthwhile keeping as beneficial to the general work environment?
There are two things that will be interesting and beneficial:
These times are a live experiment demonstrating to many employers that their prejudices about flexible working may be wrong.
Read an interview with Paul Bomke, member of MHE’s Board and director of Pfalzklinikum, a service provider of mental health care in the Palatinate region, Germany.READ MORE
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