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Supporting the mental health of lone workers

Supporting the mental health of lone workers

lone worker

This month, Dr Liz Royle and Chartered Psychologist Cath Kerr were invited to present at the Lone Worker Safety Theatre at the annual Health and Safety event at the NEC.

Liz started by putting the subject of lone worker mental health support into some psychological context.

She explained how the human need for connection is visceral, primitive and hard-wired into our brains. This means that we can respond in a strong and negative way to any perception of disconnection.

At the most basic level, for animals that predominantly live in social groups (and that includes human beings), physical isolation brings danger. It leaves the individual exposed to predators without the protection of the flock or herd or “tribe”.

Another level to this relates to the fact that humans are mammals.

Young mammals are vulnerable and rely on others for quite some time. For them, abandonment by the protecting family or social group means death. They will react strongly to any perception of abandonment as this is literally a survival issue. As we grow older, we become more independent and self-sufficient. But when we feel unsure about our abilities or anxious about our environment, we also return to being more sensitive to disconnection.

We need to know that our basic needs can be met and that the “tribe” will come and protect us if required.

The third level to our need for connection is related to our social identity. Who are we?

Aside from being a social animal, mammal – what kind of social group do we belong to?

Social identity theory underpins the value and protection of a group that we identify with. We are more likely to accept support from “people like us” and to feel safe. Being outside that social group brings danger. We can see the power of this primitive fear in issues such as stigma, ostracizing and bullying. This feeling of being outside the group can also be triggered when we don’t feel visible or valued as a person or we don’t feel we have a voice or any influence.

One of the strongest social groups we belong to is our work group. Work is a major influence in our lives – if we discount sleep, we often spend more time at work than at home. It has the ability therefore to impact on our mental health in a positive or adverse way.

So why does all this matter? At the end of the day, we all have to be independent and occasionally live and work alone.

Human beings need to feel safe and part of a community in order to thrive rather than survive. The operative word is Feel.

It’s all about perception. Understanding the basic layers of this gives us a foundation to work from when we are considering mental health support for lone workers.

The connections are naturally weaker with remote workers so it’s logical that we need to do more to bolster them so that they are on a par with employees who aren’t remote.

Liz’s presentation went on to explore the helpful ways we can promote that need for connection and highlighted some of the ways we may inadvertently exacerbate disconnection

She also talked about some of the signs of emotional distress and then explained how we can empower managers through training by building on all this knowledge with a 4 step process for wellbeing check-ins.

This is a simple process that combines some of the principles of connection with informal wellbeing support. It can be used with individuals or teams – whether they are seen face to face or remotely.

Cath then brought this learning to life with a case study of how one organisation supported its remote workers through the pandemic.

Akamai Technologies, Inc. is a global content delivery network, cybersecurity, and cloud service company, providing web and Internet security services. Akamai’s Intelligent Edge Platform is one of the world’s largest distributed computing platforms. They have more than 9000 employees around the globe, so this is no small feat when it comes to managing mental health and wellbeing.

But their passionate wellness team channels Akamai’s core values of inclusion, integrity and trust, to drive their comprehensive approach to wellness, making it a natural part of their culture. Akamai do not have a one size fits all approach, and their diverse range of solutions are frequently reviewed, tailored to need, and continue to grow over time.

The Lone Worker Safety Live event will take place on October 11 2022. Don’t miss this unique event dedicated to the health and wellbeing of lone and remote workers.

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