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It's time for Frontline Managers to Shine

Two Hundred and Forty Million – That’s how many results Google returns for a “Working from Home during COVID19” search. Without reading each and every one, it’s probably a fair assumption that the internet has the ‘Ergonomic Set Up of a Home Workstation’ covered. 

Which is a good thing, because with an estimated 30% of the workforce now working from home, there are going to be lots of people and organisations trying to figure out how to do it efficiently, effectively and safely.  

And it shouldn’t be too hard. Most homes are going to have access to smoke alarms and basic first aid supplies to deal with the most likely emergencies and most home office electrical equipment is likely to be connected to a safety switch and not subject to too much wear and tear. While not everyone will have a dedicated home office, a fairly reasonable set up can probably be found with a good ergonomic chair and a dedicated screen. While these items aren’t everything, somewhere in the 240 Million results I’m confident you will find a good working from home safety checklist to guide you through it.

What’s not included in a lot of those millions of results is advice for organisations to manage their people’s mental health and wellbeing. This was already an emerging issue and one that many frontline managers were already struggling to grasp and deal with. These same individuals will have an even greater role to play in a remote working environment. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic, mental health related workers compensation claims had surged by more than 90% between 2010 and 2015. The majority of these claims were attributed to:

  • work pressure (31%)
  • work-related harassment and/or bullying (27%)
  • exposure to workplace or occupational violence (14%)
  • other mental stress (9%)
  • exposure to a traumatic event (7%)

Even with a remote workforce its highly unlikely that many of these causes will simply disappear and in many cases there may be even more factors that contribute to mental health injuries including those related to isolation when working at home or burnout as work and home life merge into each other. 

Work Pressures

If anything working from home arrangements during COVID19 might exacerbate work pressures. There might be a reduced workforce due to layoffs, but the same amount of work. People might have less access to guidance and assistance working remotely, while some people might have been reassigned to complete unfamiliar tasks. There have even been reports of organisations warning staff to maintain productivity or risk redundancy.

Work-related harassment and/or bullying

If social media tells us anything it’s that harassment and bullying isn’t confined to face to face interactions. More so, the remoteness of workplace communication from normal supervision, coupled with the general anxiety everyone is feeling, could result in even greater incident rates. 

Workplace or occupational violence

While working from home might isolate people from colleagues that are violent, consider the people who might use work to separate themselves from a violent family member, a family member who might be experiencing greater stress and anxiety and normal. 

Under these circumstances its clear that we all have a role in providing support and maintaining contact with our work friends and colleagues, but frontline managers will need to play a particularly important role to provide support and assistance to their teams. 

Our new normal means no ad-hoc interaction by the desk or coffee machine, no quick bite to eat at lunchtime, no Friday night drinks and no team building exercises like office yoga or casual clothes days. All help to build support structures and relationships that provide strength and resilience to individuals and organisations. In our new environment frontline managers will have to find new ways to build and maintain that strength and resilience when their teams are isolated from each other. Organisations should be considering if their Frontline Managers have the skills to do this, or need upskilling in light of the new working conditions. 

This should include ways for teams and people to interact, both professionally and socially and already we are seeing ways organisations are using technology to maintain the bonds between colleagues and keep spirits high. Even Verus, dab hands at working from home since our start in 2014, introduced “Whine with Wine” where we get together via videoconference and deliberately not talk shop. I’ve heard other organisations introduce dress themes for their Zoom meetings. All of these add to the idea that you and your team are just that, a team, and are more than the sum of the individual parts. 

Maintaining these relationships with your teams will support them to come to you if they are experiencing work related stress, anxiety, bullying or harassment or need other types of support. The increased interaction will also provide frontline managers with a better ability to identify who might be experiencing mental health traumas enabling them to reach out proactively as well as advise your employer on whether more needs to be done to protect employee health, safety and wellbeing. 

If you’re having trouble finding help on what you can do, engage with your team. Most importantly, it will show that you care, and that’s one of the most important things frontline managers can do.  

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