How are you doing? This simple question can make a huge difference to someone’s day; checking in with the people around us helps build feelings of connection and belonging. In this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, with its focus on tackling loneliness, asking someone how they are can start a conversation, break through loneliness and let someone know they matter. 

According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four adults feel lonely some or all of the time. 

Our society and workplaces are changing rapidly, and the pandemic has increased isolation and loneliness for many people, linked to a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. The rise in home working and hybrid working highlights the importance for employers to proactively encourage and maintain feelings of connections with employees.

Since 2014 employees in the UK have had the right to request flexible working, once they have been working for their organisation for twenty-six weeks. Flexible working is defined as any working pattern that fits an employee’s needs more closely than traditional working hours, and can involve having variable starting and finishing times, working compressed hours, job sharing or working from home.

Whilst there has been resistance amongst some employers, there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea among the workforce, with seventy percent of workers agreeing that the ability to work flexibly would make a job more attractive to them, and forty percent claiming that they would choose flexible working over a pay rise. What is more, many forward-looking employers are increasingly seeing the benefit of offering flexibility around how, when and where employees work, both for mental wellbeing and productivity.

Whilst flexible working has conventionally been seen as a response to practical and logistical challenges faced by employees who are parents or have other caring responsibilities, awareness is growing of the impact of mental health issues on people’s working lives, and how flexible working can play a crucial role in tackling these challenges.

A recent survey found that over one-third of employers actively offer workload reviews and flexible working options to support staff with mental health issues. Mental health charity Mind outline some of the advantages of flexible working for those with mental health issues, including avoiding busy commuting times when anxiety can peak, creating more sustainable work-life balance, and having time available during the working day to attend medical appointments. Having said that, flexible working is not just for those with mental health issues – everyone benefits.

Some organisations are taking even greater strides, recognising the potential for flexible working practices to benefit not only employees but the company as a whole. These organisations are placing employee wellbeing at the heart of their corporate culture, and seeing results in terms of satisfaction and productivity. 

Another recent survey found that eighty-three percent of companies that introduced flexible working policies reported increased productivity and sixty-one percent saw their profits go up, so clearly embracing flexible working practices can be seen as a win-win situation for both employers and employees. However, we need to keep the issue of loneliness in the forefront of our minds, as the popularity of flexible working may hide the extent of the problem from view.

Well-managed flexible working practices have the potential to help organisations respond proactively to the challenge of mental health issues in the workplace, but we all need to keep thinking about how we stay connected to each other. 

Cerulean offers a range of bite-size learning sessions to help develop your employees’ Personal Effectiveness and support good mental health in the workplace, including how to manage stress and build resilience, how to harness enthusiasm and motivation, and boost confidence and emotional intelligence at work to improve relationships and performance. 

You can find out more about our Personal Effectiveness sessions here