Working From Home (WFH) vs Mental Health

Working From Home (WFH) vs Mental Health

With May hosting Mental Health Awareness Week (9th-15th May) – this is quite topical.

I recently commented on another post and I was asked briefly about this at the ACA (Air Charter Association) conference where I was a panellist.

Now, while some people will obviously troll this post and tell me I’m wrong and not modern thinking, to those people, I suggest they aren’t seeing the bigger picture and any of my team will confirm that I’m a generous, supportive and modern thinking boss. When Boris gave us the green light to return to work “if we want”, I put it to the team here – everyone, literally everyone was excited to come back and that’s because there is a culture and we missed one another, despite our daily Zoom calls.

So, to my point; I have a serious concern that we are producing and becoming a nation homeworkers, with reasons ranging from Employers not wanting to spend on office space, through to Employees feeling it’s their right of choice, through to the general rhetoric and pressure about WFH should be the norm.

Turn the clock back 20 years, even 3 years, and the idea of asking your boss if you can work from home for any more than the odd day here/there would have been laughable, now it seems like people can wave a flag and it’s accepted, purely because we were, as a nation and world, forced into it…… but at what cost is this new culture ?

I asked my 18 year old son what he thought about homeworking, he said that he’s worried for the workforce when he leaves Uni in 2026 and he starts looking for work, as so many teenagers and under 30s are already suffering anxiety, have huge pressure from social media and need to conform to what society says they “should be” – I don’t just mean Snapchat filters smoothing skin imperfections, or the need to post on Insta or TikTok when you’re doing something ‘cool’… it’s about the workplace and social interactions – and a potential pressure on employers to allow homeworking. While he’s got it all together, I’d personally much rather he was surrounded by colleagues when he starts work in the big-bad-world and his life changes forever.

The past two years students doing their GSCE, A-Levels and degrees have already suffered from studying from home, missing out on a huge amount of social interaction and “mates time” during an important time of their lives as they’re growing up… now we are seeing school leavers, or graduates actively seeking for jobs that have elements of homeworking, if not total homeworking. I won’t lie, as a father, spending 18 months at home with my (then) 16 year old son was truly awesome, he worked hard, as did I, he smashed his GSCEs and Volanteus smashed every goal I could have envisaged but having him home for that time was brilliant… but what about now it’s getting back to normality ? (whatever that is).

This issue is that those flag wavers want their cake and eat it… on one hand we have vast rhetoric about “Mental Health” and how we should all support and keep a watchful eye on those suffering, yet on the other hand we’ve got all the self-entitled people shouting about their “right to work from home”… hauling themselves up in the spare room or on their kitchen table, not only (generally) causing poor posture and therefore health issues in future but also making them like a recluse tapping away on a laptop, occasionally having a Teams or Zoom calls (where cameras are optional), hardly interacting physically with any other human being… and yet we say that WFH is good for mental health and responsible by employers – it’s a case of WTF, more than WFH as far as I can see!

So how can we possibly think that sending those new to the full time working environment, or indeed those experienced whom are struggling with mental health into a home working environment is a good thing ??

Since the dawn of time, well business at least, people have had to “go to work” and that doesn’t mean bedroom to kitchen in pyjamas… it means sitting with colleagues, who become friends, it means leaving your place of home and going to your place of work; it means learning social etiquette, it means knowing how to act in a meeting…… this whole WFH will be short-lived, in a few years it will be back to working from an office and then what of these potentially socially inept workers who aren’t capable of striking a conversation that isn’t over Whatapp or via Zoom ? Will we then be changing the remit and saying we have to cater for these because things changed back to traditional working practises, perusing a new ‘identifier’ for people to add to the growing list…. why should we allow a complete shift in work culture, just because some people would prefer to work alone locked away at home with a 30 second commute to their place of work, while others don’t have that option to carry out their jobs – hospitality, construction, aviation for example.

Listen, let me put it like this, if I’m out drinking with my friends, people think I’m having fun, but if I were sitting at home drinking on my own, people would think I have a problem – except they wouldn’t know would they until they found me in drunken stupor if they popped around and it might be too late by then… it’s the same principle with mental health, people spend a lot of time with colleagues ‘at work’, so those people are often in the best position to recognise people suffering and draw attention to it; to them directly, to the boss, to their family or their friends. This isn’t even to mention the fact that obesity is on the rise and getting out of the house is exercise, even if you’re walking around an office, sitting at home day in, day out while the Ocado van delivers your groceries and Deliveroo brings your lunch.

An an Employer of a team working in a high pressure environment, having employed people with ages ranging from 20 to 60+, it is partly my responsibility, and the responsibility of the team to ensure we take care of our colleagues and friends… I want people to come to the office, I want people to learn social skills in the office, how to deal with people and how to build friendships, a team works better shoulder to shoulder, not laptop to laptop. People buy from people, so if you’re a person who isn’t used to social interaction, don’t have 1-2-1 charm or cannot cope in a crowd, then hiding away at home isn’t going to help you get better at it – is it ??

This is a subjective and emotive matter – but if common sense is applied, the world worked quite well (overall) for centuries and massive progress has been made, so just because it was ‘quite nice’ for a change to work from home for a while, it can’t be good nor natural, we need to get back to the norm and that’s working from an office.

In conclusion, as I said at the start, May is “Mental Health Awareness Month” – might I suggest to all employers and colleagues throughout my network that they check-in with their fellow workers and heighten their awareness… a physical phone call or better still, a chat next to their desk goes a hell of a long way… you never know, you might save a life.

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