Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: tackling loneliness in a remote workforce

employee isolated at home
By Caroline Gammon | 11th May 2022 | 4 min read

The world of work has forever changed with many employers adopting hybrid and remote working models, pushing us even closer to a predominantly digital world.

The impact: effectively supporting employee mental health has become significantly more challenging.

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I’ve taken some time to reflect on how these working models can affect mental health and what businesses can do to better support their employees.

What is mental health?

Defining mental health in the detail it deserves could be a blog on its own, but to provide some context to the topic at large, here is a summary by Medical News Today: “Mental health refers to cognitive, behavioural and emotional wellbeing.”

Loneliness when working from home

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme, loneliness, rings true for this new challenge – many employees have gone from being surrounded by co-workers and friends to, in some cases, spending their entire working week alone at home.

In the past, if an employee was going through a rough period or struggling with mental health, it would be far easier to pick up on warning signs when seeing them in the office every day.

Additionally, being in an office every day naturally meant you would constantly be around people.

But now, with people working predominantly remote, feelings of loneliness can quickly creep up, and those struggling can begin to suffer when in an isolated environment.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we covered five warning signs relating to remote working employee mental health issues that still ring true today; read that article here for more information.

Four ways to support employee mental health

While hybrid and remote working have incredible benefits, you must ensure those working from home are supported.

To actively support your employees’ mental health, there are a few steps you can look to implement.

1) Tackle loneliness by engaging with employees

The workplace has changed a lot in recent years, with the pandemic accelerating the adoption of flexible working. But what has this meant for workplace connection?

According to Mental Health UK, one in five people feel lonely at work, significantly impacting their wellbeing.

But what can be done with employees who aren’t in the office? Below are a few recommendations:

  • Promote regular team collaboration, either in person or virtually
  • Encourage managers to have frequent 1-2-1 meetings with their direct reports
  • Regularly check in with employees 
  • Consider implementing a pump-up day/company kick-off
  • Implement a buddy support system in similar role grades

A recent study found that teams who effectively communicate with employees increase productivity by 20-25%; tackling loneliness and fostering an inclusive work environment are fundamental to ensuring a happy and engaged workforce.

2) Check in with your business leaders

Your senior leaders and line managers are responsible for looking after their direct reports – however, it can often get lonely at the top.

Ultimately, your business leaders’ mental health plays a huge role in creating a sense of stability and calm in the workplace; if business leaders are struggling, how can they be expected to effectively support their team?

The pressures of managing a team can understandably be a lot, so be sure to check in with them, not just on performance and how their reports are doing, but how they’re coping.

Tools such as Staffology HR and IRIS Cascade can be used to send direct messages and questionnaires, enabling you to easily reach out to business leaders – find out more.

3) Invest in mental health first aiders

A company-wide action you can take is to invest and train certain employees to be mental health first aiders (MHFA).

The training to become an MHFA covers how to support mental health and wellbeing, the impact of mental health on your business/people and how to promote a healthy workplace.

For many employees, raising issues with their managers regarding mental health can be an extremely daunting prospect, but having trained and impartial members of staff can significantly ease that stress, enabling people to seek help.  

You can learn more about becoming a mental health first aider here.

4) Implement third-party support

Challenges with mental health can be caused by a wide array of issues, with some originating from the workplace; employees may be struggling with anxiety around their role or be facing financial problems and dealing with in-work poverty.

More content: see our blog on tackling in-work poverty here.

Your business can provide added support by implementing third-party assistance as part of your employee benefits.

Services such as financial advice and independent phone lines for support can all be provided by external suppliers.

Tip: It's important to effectively communicate that this support is available to your employees on a regular basis so that they don’t feel alone in their struggles and know where to go if they need help.

Working together to tackle loneliness and mental health

It can seem daunting to begin implementing actions to tackle mental health as there are so many routes to take.

However, simply taking that first step and starting with one action can make all the difference.

By working together, we can tackle issues such as loneliness in the workplace and ultimately create a better workplace for all.