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47% of SME employees say working from home is negatively impacting their mental health

Findings show that there is little additional support from SME’s to meet employee wellbeing standards when working from home, as many make a more permanent change after lockdown.

The ‘Working from Home’ study, conducted by remote team building company Wildgoose, surveyed employees from 133 companies throughout the UK as the Covid-19 lockdown eases. They were asked how their working day differs at home compared to in the office, whether they would be happy to continue working from home after lockdown is ended, and how companies could improve home working practices.

The Working from Home study asked SME employees whether they could identify issues with team communication, desk setup, or working hours with the new working environment – just 22% of respondents stated that they have no issues.

Nearly half (47%) of employees at SME’s are finding that their mental health has been impacted by working from home. According to a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, people are spending 48.5 minutes more at their desk each day.

In a survey from leading business psychology provider The Myers-Briggs Company, 47% of respondents were somewhat or very concerned about their ability to manage stress during the crisis, as many organisations will continue to work from home for much of the foreseeable future.

Research from The New Normal report by Dynata, the world’s largest first-party data and insight platform, found that despite the challenges posed, three-quarters of people expect to work from home more often after the lockdown. Compared to 74% of employees overall, only 69% of those working at companies with 1,000+ employees were keen to stay out of the office, whilst 89% of workers in SMEs wanted to continue in working from home.

This suggests that small businesses in particular face the greatest pressure to create a structure to address the issues. While there are clear benefits to an increase in remote working – flexibility, increased time with family, and reduced commuting – supporting employees’ wellbeing virtually can be difficult to facilitate – adequate support should be introduced to ensure wellbeing and productivity.

What do SME employees want from their companies when working from home?

  • Casual contact. 3 in every 5 (60%) of employees at SMEs stated that they missed seeing their workmates and spending time with them face-to-face
  • Social time. Nearly half (47%) of SME employees would like more social contact with workmates as part of the working day via integrated communications, like daily video catch-ups and quizzes
  • Wellbeing support. 47% stated that their mental health is being impacted by isolation at home, a sub-optimal working environment, and other aspects of WFH

When it comes to specific ways in which employees want their companies to improve home working practices, there were similarities between SMEs, medium to large companies and very large companies. However, the study also found key differences in how companies of varying sizes have adapted to the shift in working patterns.

What structures should SMEs adopt to support working from home?

Respondents of the ‘Working From Home’ study were asked about their daily habits in their new workspace away from the office, and measured these against elements that are known to help employee wellbeing. 

Among the most common problems with WFH identified by the survey were:

  • Not taking the health and safety recommended hourly desk breaks (47%)
  • Failing to take breaks for physical activity or stretching (50%)
  • Uncomfortable and impractical desks and equipment (45%)
  • Working excessive hours (36%)

95% of UK employees are neglecting microbreaks when working from home, impacting their wellbeing 

Statistics from the shows that microbreaks have decreased for 95% of employees during home working, as lockdown sees us glued to our desks more than ever before – highlighting the need for companies to do more to support their workforce.

One of the main findings when employees were asked which aspects of home working could be improved was that employees have been taking significantly fewer microbreaks throughout the day. Microbreaks lasting a few minutes are linked to wellbeing, productivity, good company morale and a happier working environment.

When the respondents were asked about their desk time and break habits, the following common ‘microbreaks’ were said to have been done less frequently during home working days:

This points to a large portion of the working population not taking the health and safety recommended break from the desk every hour (47%), failing to take breaks for physical activity or stretching (50%), and a large portion of UK employees (61%) losing social aspects of work and the mental benefits that accompany them.

Further questions from the study found that nearly half of the study respondents (47%) stated that they felt their mental health was being affected when working from home – companies need to address this as they would in an office.

When asked what managers could do to make home working arrangements better, employees said that the biggest areas for improvement were:

  • Lack of social contact with workmates (56%)
  • Not seeing workmates face-to-face (52%)
  • Not protecting employee mental health (47%)
  • Uncomfortable and impractical desks and equipment (45%)
  • Working excessive hours (36%)

Conversely, however, 74% of those asked said that they would be happy to continue working from home after the lockdown has finished.

The study also found that small businesses face greater pressure going forward to allow employees to continue working from home, with 89% of workers in SMEs wanting to continue, compared to only 69% at companies of over 1,000 employees.

Identifying that the biggest issues faced by home working employees revolve around social interaction, Wildgoose have produced four new remote team building products to help connect employees who find themselves spread across the UK: The Daily Kick-Off, The Team Quiz, The Virtual Away Day and The Virtual Escape Room

Commenting on the findings, Wildgoose managing director Jonny Edser says:

“Remote working has presented challenges for companies of all sizes, and for SMEs morale is right up there with the biggest of them. In smaller companies, that sense of connection and camaraderie is key to a healthy and productive working environment. When you take away the tea breaks and office chats, teams can struggle to stay motivated at a distance, which makes regular team building exercises more important than they’ve ever been. We’ve adapted our offering to help companies with remote workforces by looking at what most engages people about team building – social interaction, that sense of collaboration and staying connected with colleagues – they’ve seen a fantastic response, and we expect this trend to continue growing.”

Karen Kwong, Director of Renoc Consulting, an organisational Psychologist and wellbeing coach, comments on the findings:

“Even without the lockdown, employees are encouraged to take microbreaks.  These are good for their mental health as well as for their physical health.  If you look at the biggest problems with desk working such as prolonged sitting and staring at a screen, this can harm the body in areas such as the spine or eyesight.  People are encouraged to take breaks away from those postures and to stretch one’s back and do eye exercises away from the screen for at least 5 -10 mins at a time, hourly, depending on the source of the advice.”

John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company comments,

“The things that concern you will depend on your personal circumstances, the situation that you find yourself in, but also on who you are – your personality. It is essential that both managers and employees have an understanding of how different personality types respond to certain situations, and how best they can thrive in a remote working environment. For example, extraverts should be encouraged to connect with people socially, as well as for meetings and work, like calling people just to say “hi”. Whereas introverted team members may find themselves getting absorbed in their work, so they should be encouraged to move around and take regular breaks.”

“People feel afraid to talk about things like having difficulty concentrating, because they’re already worried for their jobs and don’t want to be seen as ‘slacking’, when they’re not. On the flip side, presenteeism doesn’t necessarily equate to productivity, and the pressure to be ‘always on’ in a virtual environment can have detrimental effects on morale and productivity. The fact that most of us are working remotely, with less easy communication and more room for misunderstanding, makes things worse. This is a natural outcome of the current situation, and organisations in which employees are more aware of their self and others will be more likely to fare well in these challenging times. Recognising this and having the tools to talk to employees about their experience allows managers to understand what stress looks like in different people and how to support them to maintain resilience.”

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