By Adam Bardsley
I’m just the wrong side of 50 and have spent pretty much all of my working life ‘in the office’ In that time I may have had one or two extended holidays that may have stretched a couple of days over a fortnight. This leaves me, and pretty much everyone else, woefully under-prepared for what we’re now dealing with. As a generally sociable race (even in IT!) and with relationships being responsible for a myriad of interlinked feel good factors what’s the impact of having that taken away? Okay so we can ‘do’ the work from home in the services industry with all the tools and technologies available but that’s a long way from being in the office.
There are plenty of studies to show that working from home or a more flexible working structure leads to happier employees. Who wouldn’t appreciate the flexibility to stray a little from the 9-5; to facilitate a break in the middle of the day; start early and get ahead of the day or park the start of the day when you’ve woken up and you’re just not feeling it yet? You’re also removing the increasingly frustrating journey from home to office (and back) with a stress-free walk from bedroom to workstation.
But this isn’t that. This isn’t a lifestyle choice you’ve manufactured toachive a better work life balance. This has been forced upon us, with very little notice, with the added complication of all the restrictions that have gone with it and the potential worry of living through the worst global health crisis in a century…oh and for some, the added ‘bonus’ of home schooling. That’s a wrecking ball right through your normal – BOOM! Fortunately, here we had made some contingencies over the preceding weeks and had begun the transition to homeworking as a result so the logistics weren’t too bad…BUT no one had asked for this and we certainly didn’t have the chance to consult and refine the plan to make the transition at a pace we would all be comfortable with.
Once you’ve begun to manage some of the practicalities of tech and space and kids and unbridled access to the fridge to go alongside the uncertainty and pandemic threat you soon realise that this adds up to quite a potent mix for the grey matter to process. Luckily the last few years have made it a lot more acceptable to acknowledge the existence of mental health let alone the potential challenges of such weighty changes. That’s allowed us to be on the front foot and immediately highlight the potential pitfalls and support tools and services available to staff in these testing times. These may be staff who have already experienced mental issues – publicly or in private – or those that are for the first time finding life tougher than normal. Thankfully when the World Heavyweight champion is happy to share his story of poor mental health we’ve moved on from the ‘toughen up’ mentality. It really can affect anyone at anytime.
Several factors that are cited as potentially triggering a period of poor mental health include isolation/loneliness, stress, financial worries and change – all more likely to become issues when you’re stuck at home, unable to meet anyone outside your household in the normal way and with a very uncertain future ahead especially with the ubiquitous reminders just in case you’re in danger of forgetting. There’s all the advice about getting a routine, getting out of pyjamas, making a workspace, taking breaks etc. but sometimes that’s still not enough. You also may need to find some inner peace amongst the turmoil. We’ve done what we can in terms of trying to keep staff connected – both working and furloughed – to make allowances for the fact we’ve lost that shared working space and familiarity that’s been such a constant in the Monday to Friday. But ultimately in these unchartered times the best thing we can hope for is every member of staff to acknowledge how important their mental health is and how now, possibly more than ever, it’s vital to be open and honest about it. As colleagues we have a big role to play in fostering an environment where people feel comfortable in opening up or reaching out. The best way we can do this is listen without judgement and then offer support and encouragement to seek out the correct help. Be kind. Support, guide, don’t fix.