The pandemic has brought many challenges, both personally and professionally. Whilst some have had to take on the challenge of being physically present in the workplace, knowing that they are exposing themselves to a greater potential of contracting the virus, there are also the workers that have felt cut off from their colleagues and the collaborative environment of the office whilst they obey work from home orders.
Regardless of where you have worked for the past 15 months, the one thing we cannot ignore is that all of us have felt a strain on our mental wellbeing.
On 23rd March 2020, the majority of us were told to stay, and work, from home. Children were sent home from schools, and offices and facilities were shut. Furlough was introduced which removed some of the financial pressures and with one of the warmest springs on record, sitting in the garden with your laptop and phone was a welcome break from the struggles of battling with the morning commute. The ‘on’ culture of the workplace was removed and we all revelled in the novelty of Teams and Zoom meetings.
All of a sudden, we felt like we were taking back control over our lives. We were more productive and went from finishing work at 5.30 to sipping a cold G&T on the patio at 5.31. But it didn’t take long for the rose-tinted glasses of WFH to rub off. School’s kicked remote learning into gear, Zoom fatigue was beginning to set in and many of us were missing the creative energy we got when we were in the working environment with our colleagues.
And then there is the loneliness. Whilst some of us have had the pleasure of being locked down with either our friends or families, an estimated 7.4million people have reported that being lonely has affected their wellbeing. Working-age adults living alone were more likely to report loneliness especially those, in rented accommodation, or who were either single or divorced/separated. (ONS data).
Despite the convenience of working from home, many of us are looking forward to a return to the office.
Despite confirming a rise in working from home during the pandemic, the ONS has reported that most of the British workforce continued to travel to workplaces during the health emergency, despite portrayals of abandoned city centres and empty offices in the media. Process, plant, and machine operatives had the highest number of workers that did not WFH during the pandemic, understandably as their jobs did not allow for this.
But now as we all prepare to take those tentative steps back to the office, there is understandably some stress and concerns surrounding what this will look like, and how safe it will be. Employers have to ensure that they are giving staff a covid secure environment to work in, making allowances for socially distanced office setups as well as extra cleaning and sanitation products for staff to use.
But just as importantly, we need to see companies actively looking to alleviate the concerns employees have about a return to the office and putting steps in place to help manage the impact on employee mental wellbeing. Mental Health First Aiders is a term we have all heard more of the past few years, so maybe now is the time to invest in some training to support your employees’ welfare as they return to work.
We have all become more aware of our mental wellbeing over the past year, and how fragile it really can be. Men are especially at risk from struggling with their mental health and are less likely to take action to help themselves. Around 1 in 8 men has a common mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder or OCD. Men are less likely to access psychological therapies and we know that societal expectations and traditional gender roles play a large part in why men are less likely to seek help for their mental health problems. Now, more than ever, we need to look at how we can improve our mental wellbeing, and employers need to ensure that they are focused on this duty of care they have for their workforce.
If you are struggling with your mental health and would like some help or support, you can access these organisations: