Here’s what employees want: Back to work after Covid-19 lockdown

The highs and lows of working from home during the Covid-19 lockdown have also thrown up a challenge to bosses: to review how they treat employees.

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Recruitment consultancy Robert Walters says it surveyed professionals across 31 countries to find out their experiences of working from home during the pandemic.

“Now that we are over the physical transition and have our designated workspace at home and are comfortable with the technology‚ our attention must be turned towards the mental health and wellbeing of staff‚” says Jason Grundy‚ MD for Middle East & Africa at Robert Walters.

Economic uncertainty‚ health fears‚ enforced leave‚ reduced pay‚ risk of redundancy‚ reduced or longer hours‚ social isolation‚ poor physical work set-up in some cases and parents juggling home schooling — “these are all fresh concerns which employees did not have to worry about two months ago”.

“Employers should be mindful of these concerns‚ and if they haven’t done so already should be ramping up the support for staff in this area — whether it be through sharing third party advice and tips‚ paying for external support‚ or altering working practices.”

The survey found that African professionals who stated that their mental health has been negatively affected as a result of remote working were in the top three of the countries surveyed‚ at 31.82%‚ after Canada (42.31%) and South Korea (40%).

Factors causing a decline in mental health for African professionals include lack of physical interaction with the team (69%); inability to separate home and working life (59%); distractions at home (47%); lack of structure to working day (37%); and working longer hours (36%).

In the survey overall‚ a quarter of professionals also stated that “more pressure to deliver results” when working from home is negatively affecting their mental health.

Grundy said: “As a manager‚ regular communication is important when your entire team is remote working — but the key here is balance.”

“The expectation for your staff to always be available for a call or to respond back within minutes can cause undue anxiety.

“The fact is that we are all at home and so let’s not unnecessarily expect staff to be at their laptop or phone for every minute of their core hours.

“Managers should build in some flexibility for their daily or weekly check-ins‚ allowing staff to occasionally move or cancel the call‚ or provide updates via e-mail or messenger instead.”
Women were most affected.

More than a third of women (34%) stated that their mental health has declined since enforced remote working came into effect‚ compared to less than a quarter of men (24%).

Lack of interaction with the team (73% of women vs 62% of men)‚ and pressure to deliver results (24% of women vs 14% of men) were the biggest differences when considering what affects female professionals.

“Employers should be mindful of these concerns‚ and if they haven’t done so already should be ramping up the support for staff in this area — whether it be through sharing third party advice and tips‚ paying for external support‚ or altering working practices.”

For men‚ the biggest difference was that 54% of males found distractions at home to have a negative affect on wellbeing‚ compared to 43% of women.

Those working at home with children in the house (33%) reported a higher decline in mental health‚ compared to professionals in shared accommodation (30%)‚ those living with a partner but no children (30%)‚ and those living alone (22%).

Changes professionals would like on their return to the office are: more focus on wellbeing‚ more autonomy and trust given by management‚ changes to work hours‚ and a change to performance measures.

Said Grundy: “The extended period of remote working means that employers shouldn’t just expect ways of working to return in the same way as before.

“We have now had the joy of no commute‚ more time with loved ones‚ and genuine flexi-hours. Professionals have also had time to reflect on their wellbeing and identify trigger points — such as pressure from management or long hours — and so will be returning to the workplace with a heightened sense of awareness towards these issues.

“As companies develop their ‘back-to-work’ strategies‚ a revised and updated mental health policy should be a part of this.”

Source: ARENA Holdings.

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