Flexible working and employee mental health

This is the final article in a series reflecting on employee mental health and wellbeing challenges that employers are currently facing. It focuses on how employers can support employee mental health going forwards.

Flexible future?

If COVID-19 has done one thing at the very least, it is to open employers’ eyes to different and more creative ways of working. This has resulted from a need to protect their workforce but also to continue to meet client and customer needs to stay afloat during the last 12 months.

Nearly a year ago, many employers moved their entire workforces to permanent working from home while others had to make their offices and sites COVID-19 secure and consider how to keep employees safe when attending work. Some employees may have had their hours changed to avoid rush hour commutes or rotas put in place to ensure there is enough to do for those working at a particular time. But how has this affected employee mental health?

With furlough leave, reduced working patterns, redundancies and restructures, permanent working from home, and requests to return to work, there is no doubt that employee mental health will have been affected, whether good or bad. Some employees may feel relieved to have been on furlough leave so they can manage home life while others may be happy to continue working to escape the stress of their personal lives.

Employers should be mindful that not all employees will require the same support. Flexible working will take many forms and communication with employees will be the key to finding out what will work best for individuals.

Serious support

The need for employers to support flexible working has never been more desired by employees. For the remainder of the pandemic and beyond, it is likely that there will be an expectation by employees that flexible working continues.

Employers should consider advertising roles (where possible) as being ‘flexible’ and take all flexible working requests, whether formal or informal, from employees seriously. Some employees will currently be trying to juggle work, with childcare / home-schooling and potentially other caring responsibilities for those more vulnerable than them.

Employers should consider a range of measures to assist employees with balancing these needs more easily, which in the long term will result in employees feeling more in control and supported.

Examples of measures that employers could discuss with employees are as follows:

  • Agreeing a temporary or permanent change in hours with employees to allow them to home school or care for their vulnerable relatives.
  • Agreeing that employees could work longer now to then have time off without a reductions in pay.
  • Considering use of holiday e.g. one day a week but spread it across 5 days by taking a few hours off each day.
  • Signposting any internal employee assistance programs.

In the long run, measures such as these will support employees and show them that their employer is aware of their needs in this difficult time. Employers and employees should think flexibility and discuss what would be best to balance the needs of both the employee and the business.

What’s next?

One key theme for employers to keep in mind is that the focus should be on prevention rather than cure. Employers need to be alive to the potential mental health impacts the pandemic may have had on their workforce and should not disregard employees reaching out for support. As shown in this article, a reach out for support could take many forms including a request for flexible working.

Employers should reassess their focus on employee mental health and consider reminding their employees of any internal support and resources that are available. Employers should also look at whether there is more they could be doing to improve employee mental health – this should include talking to employees to understand how they are currently feeling and what they want from their employer.

It is so important that employers create an open workplace where employees feel comfortable to talk about their mental health and how it could be improved or supported by their employer. Mental health and wellbeing should be a top priority for employers. Without healthy workforces (physically and mentally), business will suffer and employers will be reminded that it is ultimately the people who make the business.

You can read the previous articles in the mental health series here:


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.


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