Nearly half of SME employees say working from home is negatively impacting their mental health

Working from home stress

Findings from a recent study show that there is little additional support from SME’s to meet employee wellbeing standards when working from home, as many make a more permanent change after lockdown.

The ‘Working from Home’ study, conducted by remote team building company Wildgoose, surveyed employees from 133 companies throughout the UK as the Covid-19 lockdown eases. They were asked how their working day differs at home compared to in the office, whether they would be happy to continue working from home after lockdown is ended, and how companies could improve home working practices.

Nearly half of employees at SME’s are finding that their mental health has been impacted by working from home. The study asked SME employees whether they could identify issues with team communication, desk setup, or working hours with the new working environment – just 22% of respondents stated that they have no issues.

Despite the challenges posed, the study found that 89% of workers in SMEs wanted to continue in working from home, compared to 74% of employees overall, and 69% of those working at companies with 1,000+ employees. This suggests that small businesses in particular face the greatest pressure to create a structure to address the issues – adequate support should be introduced to ensure wellbeing and productivity.

What do SME employees want from their companies when working from home?

  • Casual contact. 3 in every 5 of employees at SMEs stated that they missed seeing their workmates and spending time with them face-to-face
  • Social time. Nearly half of SME employees would like more social contact with workmates as part of the working day via integrated communications, like daily video catch-ups and quizzes
  • Wellbeing support. 47% stated that their mental health is being impacted by isolation at home, a sub-optimal working environment, and other aspects of WFH

When it comes to specific ways in which employees want their companies to improve home working practices, there were similarities between SMEs, medium to large companies and very large companies. However, the study also found key differences in how companies of varying sizes have adapted to the shift in working patterns.

What structures should SMEs adopt to support working from home?

Respondents of the ‘Working From Home’ study were asked about their daily habits in their new workspace away from the office, and measured these against elements that are known to help employee wellbeing.

Among the most common problems with WFH identified by the survey were:

  • Not taking the health and safety recommended hourly desk breaks
  • Failing to take breaks for physical activity or stretching
  • Uncomfortable and impractical desks and equipment
  • Working excessive hours

Commenting on the findings, Wildgoose managing director Jonny Edser says: “Remote working has presented challenges for companies of all sizes, and for SMEs morale is right up there with the biggest of them. In smaller companies, that sense of connection and camaraderie is key to a healthy and productive working environment. When you take away the tea breaks and office chats, teams can struggle to stay motivated at a distance, which makes regular team building exercises more important than they’ve ever been. We’ve adapted our offering to help companies with remote workforces by looking at what most engages people about team building – social interaction, that sense of collaboration and staying connected with colleagues – they’ve seen a fantastic response, and we expect this trend to continue growing.”

Karen Kwong, Director of Renoc Consulting, an Organisational Psychologist and wellbeing coach, says: “‘Water cooler’ conversations in an office setting will certainly provide more frequent breaks than working from home, and will have a positive impact on wellbeing and productivity because humans at their basic level are social creatures, even the most introverted of us.  It actually gives us energy to socialise, even in small doses.  Through casual conversations, sharing stories, or chatting about a piece of work will enhance your thinking and give you some ideas on how to improve your current project.  This will bring about increased motivation, engagement and build and enhance working relationships. These all contribute to wellbeing and productivity at work.

The social interaction and the workplace community of subtle but no less important relationship-building – they all help the organisation’s productivity, as well as the wellbeing of individuals.”