It is a PCBU’s duty to ensure the health and safety of workers, including when they work remotely, WorkSafe warns
Since the Covid pandemic, it has become more common for people to work from home. At home, workers can be exposed to different health and safety risks, including risks to their mental health.
Mental health is a state of wellbeing in which a worker realises their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to contribute to their community.
When working from home, risks to worker mental health (psychosocial risks) can arise from:
- a poor work environment
- a lack of social connections
- poor work design.
What are the signs to look out for?
At your place of work, it may be easier to notice signs that a worker is struggling. For example, you may notice they are running late, or working very long hours. These signs can become harder to observe if you are not in the same place as the worker.
Some things to look out for:
- Work performance decreases and they start missing deadlines.
- They are not interested in attending career development activities.
- They start skipping meetings.
- They shift their work hours to times outside of their normal schedule when no one is available.
- They take sick days with no explanation.
- Emails are often sent outside of work hours.
- They mention they have skipped lunch or breaks, or are available on chat when they said they were taking a break.
- Changes in their communication (for example, the tone in emails, short responses, only sending emails).
- Talking more or talking less.
- Avoiding calls.
- Change in speed of responses.
- They stop offering input or suggestions (for example, in group chats, team meetings or goal setting).
- They change how much of their home life they share with colleagues (for example, they are usually happy to talk about their home life, but suddenly only wish to talk about work).
- Facial expressions.
- Not as engaged as usual.
- Regularly joining in online meetings late.
What can you do?
Because workers know their home and will be the ones carrying out the work, they will have insight into many of the psychosocial risks of working from home. Talk with them to understand the environment they will be working in.
Consider their knowledge, expertise, capability, and individual situation. Engage with your workers before changes to where they work occur. Consider the risks to everyone’s health and safety, and how to best manage them.
Once a worker is working from home, ongoing communication is essential for you to be able to manage working from home risks. Effective communication should be open, clear and in place from the start.
People’s mental health can change at any time, so you should proactively put control measures in place to manage psychosocial risks, rather than wait for issues to arise.
These could include:
- Support mental health through good work design
- Support workers to create healthy work environments
- Promote social connections
- Provide active support, and encourage workers to raise issues
Create a working from home policy
A policy is an effective way to communicate your business’ procedures around working from home. Policies should be created, refined, and agreed in consultation with workers, along with individual procedures for workers in different circumstances.
For example, your policy could include:
- acknowledgement that working from home can have adverse effects on mental health if risks are not properly managed
- the roles and responsibilities of management and workers
- resources or reimbursements available to support working from home
- how the application and approval processes work
- commitment to review the policy within a set timeframe.
Consider how your working from home policy fits with your wellbeing programmes or other broader health and safety policies and initiatives, such as:
- emergency management (for example, pandemics, disasters, and major incidents)
- family violence and support systems