Cathy O'Donoghue of HR Champions talks about the wellbeing conundrum
Meeting the demands of employees and being aware and responsive to their physical and mental wellbeing while maintaining a profitable business will undoubtedly be amongst the major challenges for employers in 2020.
Here, our regular Business Boffin, Cathy O'Donoghue of HR Champions discusses an aspect we may all be missing.
Employee wellbeing and work/life balance are phrases that have appeared in the workplace with increasing regularity over recent years. Being able to request flexible working arrangements is now a statutory right for employees and employers must be seen to give all such requests due consideration. Indeed, employers need to present a strong business case to deny flexible working requests.
The idea of spending less time at work and having more quality time to share with family was even seen as a vote-winner by Labour in the last General Election. The party's manifesto included a promise to reduce the full-time working week to just 32 hours with no loss of pay within 10 years of being elected with employers being expected to shoulder the costs.
Despite this aspiration to work less, the increase in the number of people working from home might actually mean that we're working more.
It's difficult to find specific figures that identify the extent of homeworking, but the implication is that the numbers are rising. As broadband Internet access becomes more readily available and collaborative software such as Microsoft Teams and SLACK become more prevalent, working from home is an option for more and more of us.
The often-cited benefits include reduced office costs, higher morale, a wider talent pool and environmental advantages. It sounds like everyone's a winner. However, there might be some downsides that are being overlooked.
Some business owners will hold the concern that the productivity of unwatched employees is likely to suffer. Conversely, evidence suggests that this is not the case and there is an increase in output. But is this because we have an inherent guilt complex that compels us to overwork in order to dispel any insinuation that we might be skiving.
Could this result in burnout or other health conditions because we feel compelled to work longer hours to justify the fact that we've been allowed to work from home?
Furthermore, we should consider the effects of loneliness and the lack of social interaction. There are numerous studies which suggest that social isolation is a major risk factor for mortality in humans. Moreover, that the risk to health caused by a lack of social relationships rivals the effects of wellestablished health risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure and obesity.
Here then, lies the conundrum. In our efforts to be seen as responsible and flexible employers, offering competitive terms and striving to carve out a reputation as being a great company to work for, are we inadvertently causing detriment to our employees' health?
While we might undertake a risk assessment of a worker's home to ensure it complies with Health and Safety regulations, are we appraising the potential risks to mental and physical health that might be as yet, unresearched side-effects of home-working?
Until further research is undertaken, my advice is to include mental health as a consideration when assessing the viability of a position that involves working from home and when evaluating the suitability of an employee who requests it. This might form part of a wider wellbeing strategy that we'll find in place with all businesses in due course.
We're probably still a while away before this issue is recognised as a mainstream problem and a case comes to Tribunal, but you don't want to be the first do you?
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