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COVID-19: Advice for Staff, Students and Community

Supporting staff wellbeing on the other side of the pandemic

Thursday 30 September 2021

Dan and Scott
Writing for the Scotsman, Mental Health Nursing Lecturers Scott Macpherson and Dan Warrender share how a flexible approach to home working could be the optimal path for supporting employee wellbeing.

If employers have a genuine desire to support staff well-being, then decisions around working from home should be led by individual employees. Certainly, for any organisation which has evidenced decreased performance and productivity with home working, the decision to order the troops back to base camp may be understandable. However, if there is no business-critical reason for people to return to communal working environments, then no needs are served by dictating it. Whilst many employers are used to having a natural hierarchical sense of power and control, it may be time to promote trust and let people decide for themselves. Forcing people into any way of working is likely to impact on how trusted, respected, and valued an employee feels. As a result, workforces will become apathetic and unmotivated, rather than fulfilled and productive. 

As the pandemic ploughed into each of our lives, bringing an aggressive tsunami of change, communal working environments were amongst the first and most obvious parts of day-to-day life to be affected. The move to home working suited some more than others but took each of us time to adapt to. For some, the lines between work and home-life became blurred, while the dichotomy of experience was evident. Some experienced the joy of spending more time with family, some the distracting invasion of children, animals and postmen into our working day. Similarly, some enjoyed the serenity and peace of isolation, whilst others were haunted by the crushing loneliness of empty rooms. Human beings are unique creatures with subjective experiences. The pandemic has shown us that one size does not fit all—and this should also be kept in mind by employers as they review working policies. 

It is true that, for some people, being pushed back into workplaces will cause great anxiety whilst the pandemic rages on. It is also true, however, that others who have been working from home are desperately keen to return to their place of work in order to connect with colleagues in-person again. Whilst many will understand the mandate to continue working from home, it may be more difficult to understand the rationale for being told to return to the office—especially if no good rationale for this is provided by their employer.   

We have spoken with people who find themselves worried about having to leave the relative safety of their established home working routine in order to return to the office, to complete work that could have been done just as well from home. Some of these people have experienced such stress as a result of this situation that they are now absent from work.  Taking the time to understand these people’s feelings and concerns would have gone some way to helping them feel supported. It would also have been useful to provide a sound rationale for any work that might need to be done in the office and to explore, with the person, how this could be achieved in a way that would feel more secure for them. These are small things that can mean a lot. One of our most fundamental human needs is to feel understood, and if employers can help meet this need for their employees then they can expect an improvement in employee well-being. 

A flexible, collaborative, and empathic approach to deciding if, and when, people can work from home would seem to be the optimal path to supporting employee well-being. This should involve the employer listening to understand the person’s perspective and concerns whilst avoiding judging these against their own perspectives. Of course, it will not be possible to meet everyone’s needs all of the time, but if honest and open conversations can be had where both employer and employee understand and value each other’s perspectives, then frustrations can be allayed and, perhaps, compromises found. 

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