40% of SMEs in the UK are more productive since the lockdown, but at the cost of mental health

When the UK went under lockdown and companies had to switch to remote work policies, the general sentiment was that productivity levels would drop. According to a study conducted in April, small and medium-sized businesses were 50% more likely than big enterprises to worry about their post-pandemic survival and 21% of them expected work-from-home policies to become a major productivity hurdle. These numbers weren’t exactly surprising, considering that British business owners have been sceptical of remote work for years. However, the reality was better than they expected. Not only did remote work not pose a challenge, but it has actually helped businesses raise their productivity levels.

Lockdown restrictions forced companies to accelerate the digital transformation process and, where this was done right, productivity increased. According to a study conducted by Vodafone UK among 1,000 small business employees, 40% of workers have been more productive since working from home. The study also revealed that: 

  • Employees whose productivity has increased worked an average of 642 extra hours, the equivalent of 26 extra days. 
  • Three-fifths of these employees have been working in the time they would have usually spent commuting. 
  • 61% agreed to do work-related tasks at any time of day. 

However, this productivity came at a cost. Although workers were more than happy to put in extra hours to help their employers make it through the pandemic, overtime is detrimental for mental health, even when it’s done from home. In the long run, the pressure to overcompensate and work harder, combined with the emotional toll of social distancing, is bound to leave a mark, and employees are already feeling the consequences. 

Employees who work from home suffer from burnout, new study finds 

A new report, titled Burnout Britain: Overwork in an Age of Unemploymentwas released on October 8, one day before World Mental Health Day, and the findings should concern every SME owner who cares about the wellbeing of their employees: 

  • The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the workplace stress, which was already a major issue in pre-pandemic times. 
  • The “always-on” culture forced workers to overperform and affected their work-life balance even further. 
  • Workplace stress is 49% higher compared to last year 
  • Women were more affected by mental health problems than men, mostly because of childcare responsibilities: 86% of women had to juggle work and caregiving, and yet women are 43% more likely to have put in extra hours. 

Mental health benefits are about to become the most coveted job perk

Workers can be motivated by many things: flexible schedule, free meals, health insurance, paid time off, performance bonuses, gym memberships, and so on. Before the pandemic, mental health barely made it on the list, and it was rather more of a niche perk that only a handful of big enterprises offered. Now, the niche perk is a trend on the rise, one that SMEs will have to jump aboard too. 

Various organisations are already advocating for the four-day workweek in the UK to help workers achieve a better work-life balance, but there’s a slim chance of that happening in the near future. In the meantime, employers are advised to take workers’ mental health into consideration and offer them these mental health perks that employees want: 

  • Licensed counsellors who can provide professional support in-office or through telecounselling 
  • Access to mental health resources outside of work 
  • Extensive mental health packages that include professional counselling to address issues such as workplace stress, anxiety, depression, and family issues
  • Subscriptions to meditation apps and other mental health solutions 
  • A culture of positivity where workers feel comfortable expressing their concerns.  

What can you do as an employee to protect your mental health while working from home?

The good news is that awareness of workplace mental health is increasing and more companies are now trying to compensate for the extra stress by offering their employees mental health perks. Change takes time to happen, however, and if you’re experiencing these signs of burnout, you should learn to take a step back and unwind: 

  • Being unable to switch off after work
  • Feeling the pressure to overperform and doing overtime even when your employer does not ask you to do so
  • Anxiety, insomnia, and changes in appetite
  • Feeling emotionally isolated from your family and co-workers 

So, what can be done? The first thing that can help you is building a solid routine that includes work, as well as rest. Prioritise your tasks for the day depending on your productivity levels and remember to take breaks. Without the structure of a regular office day, you might feel tempted to turn on your laptop as soon as you wake up, skip lunch, and continue working after 6 pm. While this may increase your productivity at first, it’s a fast-burning fire that will affect your mental health in the long run and make you lose your motivation. 

Then, make sure you fuel your body with the things it needs to work properly. These are challenging times for everyone’s emotional wellbeing, and you need healthy food to function. Don’t skip breakfast, have balanced meals, and avoid excesses of any type. If you’re struggling to stay calm and focused at work, replacing your coffee or energy drink with a CBD infused drink is a better way of restoring balance. Sports can also do wonders for your mental health and, although they’re harder to do in the lockdown, there are plenty of ways to stay physically active whilst social distancing. You can go jogging early in the morning around your neighbourhood to start the day energised, do yoga, home Pilates, or get your heart pumping by cycling on an indoor bike. 

When the workload gets overwhelming, and you can’t delegate your tasks, trying meditation and mindfulness can help you stay focused and change your attitude towards stress. Meditation is a personal thing, so you don’t have to replicate someone else’s routine exactly: whether you prefer to sit down in a quiet spot in your living room, go for a walk, or do some gardening, it’s entirely up to you.

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