The Mental Health Foundation has been instrumental in raising the profile of mental health concerns in the UK. As well as offering year-round advice and support, the organisation hosts an annual Mental Health Awareness Week.
This year’s event will take place from 9th-15th May, and will focus on loneliness. In this blog, we’ll explore how loneliness can become a health and safety issue, as well as offering some general tips on improving employee well-being and meeting your duty of care under health and safety legislation.
Are we experiencing a loneliness epidemic?
A recent government survey found that 80% of British adults feel lonely sometimes, and 6% feel lonely often or always. Young people and people with a long-term illness or disability are especially likely to be affected.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic had a huge effect on loneliness levels in the UK. Millions were cut off from their friends and family, and this had serious repercussions for the nation’s mental health.
The impact of remote working
While at first glance loneliness might not appear to be a health and safety issue, it might come into your scope if work responsibilities are causing or magnifying it. After all, an employer’s duty of care extends to mental health as well as physical health.
Although the worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us, its effects will be felt for a long time to come. This is especially true in the workplace. 60% of UK employees worked remotely at some point during the pandemic, and over a quarter of employees plan to continue doing so, according to research by a comparison site.
There are many advantages to working from home, but it can also be a recipe for loneliness. A 2020 survey found that 46% of remote workers were struggling with loneliness. This seems to be a particular problem for younger employees, with over 80% of remote workers under 35 reporting feelings of isolation.
How can I help?
If it is work processes that are contributing to the problem, as an employer, it is important you identify the risk and take steps to eliminate or manage it. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Check in regularly with remote workers, and be on the lookout for warning signs such as an employee frequently missing meetings or deadlines.
- Keep remote workers updated. Share all company news with them, even if it isn’t specifically relevant to their job.
- Encourage remote workers to sit in on team meetings via Zoom or Skype. Make sure that they have the opportunity to participate along with the employees in the room.
- Invite remote workers to all workplace social events. You could even organise a specific meet-up for remote workers.
- Pair up remote workers with someone in the office and encourage them to support each other.
- Encourage hybrid working over pure remote working. Even if remote workers only come to the office once a week, this will help them to keep a sense of structure.
- If it is not practicable or possible for them to come into your premises look for alternatives, like paying for a hot desk in a co-working space.
What else can I do to improve employee mental health?
Loneliness isn’t the only mental health challenge facing UK employees. According to the HSE, 822,000 workers are suffering from stress, depression or anxiety. Altogether, these conditions account for 12.7% of all sick days.
In 2017, the government commissioned an independent review into mental health support in the workplace. This resulted in the Thriving at Work report, which sets out the core standards that all employers should meet. These include:
- Creating a mental health at work plan that documents details of the support available to employees.
- Raising awareness of mental health by providing information to employees.
- Encouraging open conversations about mental health at regular intervals, and during the recruitment process.
- Creating an environment that fosters good mental health and provides a healthy work life balance.
- Training managers to spot signs of poor mental health, and to provide the necessary support.
We’re sure that you want to do everything you can to care for your staff. If you need help creating a mental health plan, or just some general advice on improving employee wellbeing, don’t hesitate to get in touch.