The Wellbeing Impact of Lone Working

Millions of UK workers work alone, for all or part of the working week. We explain how some home workers can be more at risk of stress than office based employees.

How do HSE describer lone working? “Those that work by themselves without close or direct supervision”.  However, the range on types of lone working is not so clear.  Employers should be reminded that those who work from home are also classified as lone workers and, while they may not be exposed to physical violence or aggression, they are susceptible to increased stress levels, which can impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Working alone can go against the very nature of who we are. “Human beings are essentially a social species. We work best in groups and if you’ve not got that then you’re missing the chance to bounce ideas around with colleagues, or missing that person who you can turn to after a really difficult conversation or meeting. Traditionally, you might have thought of lone working as the contractor working at the far end of a depot doing a filter change on his or her own.  We’ve been managing that kind of lone working effectively for a number of years. However, there’s been this big shift in the world of work, where there is a large staff number who might previously have been based in an office but are now location-independent workers.

It’s this shift in working that has left some employers behind. Often, they are unaware that their remote workers are indeed lone workers, even if their office is the local coffee shop.So how can employers keep on top of the changing way in which we now work, particularly the wellbeing of remote, home workers?

If any type of lone working is taking place then, as with all work-based tasks, risk assessments should be carried out. In terms of an employee’s wellbeing, a mental health risk-assessment can be used, or a series of questions that, in theory, can identify the warning signs of employees under stress. It is a regulatory requirement to carry out and act on this risk assessment.

In addition, under the Equality Act, an employee who discloses that they are suffering from a mental health condition could be considered to have a disability if it affects their normal day-to-day activity. This, in turn, would trigger the requirement for the employer to offer “reasonable adjustments” to their working arrangements.

For employers, it is also worth viewing home or remote workers slightly differently to those in the office. While research into the effect of lone working on a person’s mental health is relatively small, studies into general societal stress risk factors indicate that social isolation can be a trigger. Given the long periods of time that home workers can go for without interacting with a colleague, for example, then they could therefore be vulnerable to stress.

For those who work in an office environment, even buying your morning coffee or interacting with the post room staff can provide those little, yet important, slices of interaction.

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