Businesses have been focused on the logical challenges of working from home, rather than employees mental health, according to new research from Gallagher.
The risk management firm found more than two in five employees working from home during the pandemic had received no mental health support from their employer.
This research also found that many employers don’t fully understand their legal responsibilities around mental health support for employees. As a result Gallgher warns some firms could face legal claims if they are found to be negligent when it comes to this issue.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers are responsible for the health and safety of employees, even when they are not working on company premises – including their mental health and stress. Yet one in three (31 per cent) business leaders are completely unaware of this, and the majority (58 per cent) say they are unsure of their responsibilities for employees’ mental health, according to this research.
Gallagher says this has become a core issue during the pandemic with over 10m people – around a third of the UK workforce – currently working from home. Around 1.5m of these employees (15 per cent) say their mental health has suffered due to the stress of home working.
The research also found that almost one in 10 workers said working from home has led them to drink more and is causing them to suffer sleep problems. Gallagher’s research was conducted among 1,000 business leaders and 2,000 UK employees.
Gallagher director of organisation wellbeing Alistair Dornan says: “Never before have our personal and work lives been so interwoven, and the old mantra of leaving work at the office is inconceivable in today’s world. Isolation, reduced personal contact and increased blurring of home-work life is now causing mental health to suffer.
“Of course, not all of this should be attributed to work, as there are many factors leading to people’s increased stress levels at the moment, but work factors are playing a significant part. Businesses cannot afford to overlook the mental wellbeing, or health and safety generally, of their employees. Not only does it make good business sense to take action to protect employees’ health and mental wellbeing, but employers may also find themselves liable, and at risk of a claim being brought against them, if it can be proved they’ve been negligent.”
The risk of physical injury and work-accidents – particularly in the home – is far less than mental health or stress (e.g. working excessive hours) but the research indicates some firms are confused as to their accountability should something happen.
Dornan adds: “Six in 10 firms fear getting sued should an employee be injured while home working. To mitigate the risk, employers must be able prove they have taken reasonable care for the employee safety. It is a hectic time, but checking insurance policies, checking in on employee home-working conditions and ensuring equipment is safe, could save time and money over the long-term.”
Commenting on this research Canada Life protection sales director Dan Crook adds: “As we mark twelve months of working from home, it’s clear that the effects of national lockdowns have taken their toll on the state of the nation’s mental health. Alongside the practical challenges of setting up employees to work from their homes, many people have also been juggling homeschooling and childcare or struggling with a sense of isolation.
“We need to encourage people to take the time to support each other, regardless of whether they are in the office or a virtual environment.
“Employers’ people management plans should also be focused on supporting their employees’ mental wellbeing, especially as we transition through more changes in working arrangements and gradually readjust to working in the office. Mental health and wellbeing support is now commonplace within group protection schemes and employers should help employees access and utilise such support systems.”
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