Employment lawyer shares top tips to help businesses reduce the physical and mental strains of homeworking

Andrew Masters

Partner & Head of Employment

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May 6, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has required employees and businesses to adjust to new forms of flexible homeworking which are taking a toll on staff’s health, safety and mental wellbeing.

Before Covid-19, studies on homeworking pointed to greater job satisfaction, more control of the working day, and improved productivity. But this feedback focused on people who, for the most part, chose to work from home.

A two week survey recently carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) reported that half of those currently working from home are actually unhappy in the situation.

The physical strains of home working

More than half of respondents in the IES Survey reported new aches and pains associated with bad posture, including in their necks (58 per cent), shoulders (56 per cent) and backs (55 per cent). For many employees the makeshift lockdown ‘office’ may be far from perfect.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that an employer is responsible for an employee’s welfare, health and safety. Businesses should consider organising remote workplace assessments to check that the working conditions of their employees at home are suitable and will not lead to injury or physical discomfort when carrying out their tasks.

For employees with physical disabilities, the provision of equipment (or reimbursement for the employee’s equipment expense) may be required as a reasonable adjustment under section 20 Equality Act 2020.

Time management issues and childcare

The IES report revealed that 48% of those working from home are putting in longer, irregular hours. Employers should be taking reasonable steps to enforce and monitor regular daily and weekly rest breaks, a requirement enforced by the Working Time Regulations 1998. Given that some employees will be caring for children and others in their home, stress levels will be running high and tolerance levels may be low. Employers should be mindful of this when allocating work.

Businesses should keep in touch with these employees on a regular basis establishing how they are. It is important to provide for flexibility, allowing employees to work outside of traditional hours if they need it. Managers need to be mindful of single parents who will be finding the current situation extremely challenging.

Supporting employee mental health

Homeworking in lockdown has presented challenging issues. With many staff now confined to their homes, either furloughed or working remotely, staying in touch is not straightforward. For those with both pre-existing mental health conditions and those without, the financial and social constraints associated with the lockdown are stretching some to their limits.

Many workplaces will have mental health support in place, such as Employee Assistance Programmes or even mental health first aiders, in order to provide employees with support during times of emotional or psychological difficulty.

Employers should remind staff of the mental health support that is available, and should consider providing links to any other tips offered for alleviating stress, staying positive and managing physical and mental health, for example Mental Health UK or Hafal.

Online video conferencing platforms like Zoom are a great way to arrange regular catch ups and social calls, either on a one-to-one basis or with teams, to check how staff are coping, boost morale and maintain social connections.

The current pandemic was completely unexpected and we are all having to learn fast and adapting to our changed circumstances. However, with positive support and commitment, businesses can make this unexpected transition a more positive one for staff and in the long term the lessons we take away could change our workplaces for the better.

For more information contact Andrew Masters on 01227 763939 or a member of the employment team.