Health and safety needs more thought in a hybrid world

Hybrid is here. Millions of hybrid workers across the country will want to know their employee is still taking their duty of care seriously – particularly in regard to their mental health.
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Shay O'Carroll
September 1, 2021

Majestic Trapeze artists ordered to wear hard hats. 

Graduates ticked off for throwing their mortar boards in the air. 

Children being banned from playing conkers tournaments unless they get their goggles on. 

Chances are we've all experienced an overbearing health and safety policy before.  

To be fair to the HSE, the above 3 examples are all its own from an article that highlights the dangers of the wrong approach, but it's fair to say the term "health and safety" comes with some pretty firm-set connotations.  

Even if you don't recall an odd example of health and safety that's happened to you personally you'll no doubt have sat through a fire safety lecture or slips and trips module during an induction or two.

As well meaning as it all is, it's probably time health and safety and our feelings towards it moved on a bit. In fact it's vital. 

Lockdown is over. Freedom Day has been and gone. Hybrid is here. The CIPD reports 40% of employers expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home – up from 5% pre-pandemic.

Nobody wants to be doing a health and safety risk assessment of their home office, but millions of hybrid workers across the country will want to know their employee is still taking their duty of care seriously – particularly in regard to their mental health.

Mental strain is stronger than ever

We may not know a lot about mental health, but we know more than we ever did and we take it more seriously than we ever did.  It's estimated 72m working days are lost to mental ill health each year in the UK alone.

The aftermath of the pandemic will bring further issues:  research from the Centre for Mental Health predicts that 8.5m more adults will need mental health support post-pandemic. 

And then there's the impact of the shift to hybrid working itself. 

Yes there is so much support and excitement for hybrid. Some people enjoyed less commuting and fewer distractions. Some welcome a better work-life balance. But others will feel isolated. A recent survey by AWA showed that 60% of workers felt that lack of social interaction with colleagues was a barrier when it comes to effective remote working.

There's also the new issue of video conferencing round the clock – so-called Zoom fatigue. It can feel very Big Brother and leave people drained by the end of the working day. 

We're dealing with individuals and individuals are nuanced. 

There's no tickbox solution 

Employers are trying, but hybrid is new and unchartered territory, and needs new and bespoke solutions.

The Embracing the Age of Ambiguity report from Aviva, noted over half of employees recognised their employer has tried to create ‘togetherness’, but just 15% said their employer understands what actually makes them tick. 

It's clear a more personalised approach is needed, right at a time when being personable is not quite as straightforward as it has been in the past.

When you're in the office, it's easy for a personable employer to make sure team leaders keep an eye out for signs of stress. It's easier to spot those signs when you can take body language and general demeanor into account too. Even quite advanced signs, such as sick leave become murkier in a hybrid model. It's really obvious when someone doesn't show up for work in an office. It's not quite as easy to track when people are working from their own home.

We at PixelMax, think we know where to start. 

But we also know there's no single silver bullet, and the most optimum set-up will vary from organisation to organisation. 

Our unified comms platform is designed for the very purpose of giving companies and employees the framework they need to thrive in a hybrid age.

The platform accommodates and executes the core human need for connection and allows line managers and employees more control and spontaneity in their communications where socialising becomes as big a benefit to the team as any structured meeting schedule.  We've also taken that Zoom fatigue into account. PixelMax is a 3D world full of engagement, and natural conversations – Video conferencing all the time is just not natural.

We understand social connections are fundamentally human and the building blocks of trust, which is key to morale, collaboration, and productivity.

But we know that not every company is going to be using PixelMax – some won't even adopt a unified comms solution.

Rethinking health and safety 

Which is why health and safety has a huge role to play. 

Yes, the better, more forward-thinking employers will adapt and provision for hybrid. They will benefit from it too. As we enter the new world of work employers must continue to demonstrate trust in their teams, offer flexible working arrangements where possible, and make mental health and wellbeing a priority. This will help employers to create a culture of care, retain the best talent and support wellbeing in the long-run. 

But is there a duty of care to protect employees from employers who don't? 

Do we need some society wide changes to what we think about when we think about health and safety at work?

These are the current obligations employers have:

  • A legally required COVID- 19 risk assessment
  • A legally required stress risk assessment 
  • A legally required Display Screen Equipment risk assessment
  • A well-being or mental health risk assessment

This final one is not a legal requirement, but it should be.

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