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Published on Monday, February 10, 2020

Spotlight on mental wellbeing for homeworkers



Statistically, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Like all employers, travel companies have a responsibility to support mental wellbeing in the workplace. We asked Karen Morris, operations director at Travel Counsellors, to explore the particular needs of homeworking agents. 


Working nine to five
Whilst flexible working is now the norm for many businesses across the globe, there are travel companies who have been championing smarter working practices for over two decades. As one of the first companies to launch the concept of homeworking in travel, it's safe to say we have learnt a lot along the way. The key to the success of a flexible working business model is to empower and trust people wholeheartedly to do the most important thing of all - provide their customers and clients with outstanding experiences. This, coupled with nurturing a company community and culture that supports each other through thick and thin, is essential to supporting colleague wellbeing.



I was interested to read a study last summer from the Institute of Leadership & Management, revealing 94% of employers in the UK now offer flexible working to some extent. The benefits this offers for work/life balance are almost immeasurable, but we must also take care to consider any 'downsides' and take steps to ensure that the wellbeing of the workforce is top priority, no matter where they are in the world, or hours they choose to work.




It's good to talk
As more businesses look to embrace flexible working, by providing the tools and technology to work all over the world at any hour, it's essential they also create forums where peers and colleague can communicate 24/7.

For businesses like ours that span multiple time zones, internal communication platform are essential to facilitate and encourage open dialogue and discussion, whether that's online forums, instant messenger technology or a good-old fashioned phone call.

A sense of community
For remote workers in travel, or any other industry for that matter, building strong support networks is vital. No matter the industry you work in, often colleagues become friends for life - many of mine are just that. Encourage your team to form friendships and be there to lend an ear to each other, but make sure you're also investing in dedicated support. Try employing a personal counsellor and proactively seeking out external programmes to support the mental wellbeing of your workforce.

Look for schemes that provide accredited skills so your team are effectively prepared to balance busy schedules and support each other.

Over the last six months we have supported nearly 100 colleagues to complete Mental Health First Aid courses (MHFA), designed to teach attendees how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions. This experience and accredited skills are vital in supporting a global network of people who work from home often, balancing busy work schedules with family life.

Businesses that champion remote working must also recognise the value of regular face-to-face conversation. Organising opportunities where remote workers can get together face-to-face, whether during dedicated conferences, supplier-sponsored takeover days, anniversary celebrations, family days or training initiatives is so important.

These face-to-face occasions should be supported by an encouraging digital community to foster a real sense of togetherness, allowing colleagues to celebrate each other's achievements, spark ideas, nurture new friendships and create a strong sense of belonging.

Home but not alone
The term 'homeworking' can also be a little misleading. Working flexibly doesn't always mean working from home, or alone. Allowing business owners to choose their own way of working, whether in teams, employing assistants, working out of shared offices and workspaces, or frequently meeting up with customers industry peers and colleagues alike, is key. This allows them to build a personal community within a wider company collective that they can lean on whenever they need it. After all, as the Beatles famously sung, we get by 'with a little help from (our) friends'.

It's vitally important to recognise the issue of mental wellbeing in the workplace. Having human networks and digital communities in place for people who don't work in a traditional 9-5 office setting can have vast benefits to business. Whilst happy people make happy customers, treating issues surrounding mental health with the care the topic deserves not only boosts employee engagement, but most importantly, it serves to support their wellbeing.
 

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