In this blog Duncan Spencer, Head of Information and Intelligence at IOSH talks about the importance of managing the wellbeing of your lone workers.

We are looking forward to seeing Duncan at our event on 2nd October where he is taking part in our ‘Ask the Experts’ sessions. Duncan has a wealth of experience and knowledge, and anyone that can quote Oscar Wilde is OK by us!

Oscar Wilde’s play the ‘Importance of being Earnest’ explores the farce of creating a duel personality i.e. one provision for workers at the factory and another for those out on the road. Let’s not do this to our lone workers.

Being in good, fulfilling work include being financially stable, having access to social networking and the development of high self-esteem are the foundations of positive wellbeing. This is vital for people’s physical health and mental wellbeing. These important factors erode easily if organisations do not combat the ‘out of sight – out of mind’ mentality when it arises in their culture. We must recognise that a lone worker has the same needs as any other employee. They need to feel supported by their managers, have the right tools for the job, be trained and competent to deal with the work problems and have mechanisms to gain advice when they meet the limit of that knowledge. Above all, they need to feel like they are an important member of a wider team that celebrates collective success through meaningful and frequent dialogue with peers as well as with managers.

Communication with a lone worker can be more difficult. In the workplace colleagues can be grabbed for a chat about a work issue or to discuss important events in their personal life. This elevates the importance of having regular and frequent time for lone workers to spend in the office with their line manager and the wider team. Modern technology can help communication too. Video call software is now inexpensive and is better than relying on text or email because facial expressions can be read. Written communication without verbal inflection and voiced emphasis can sometimes be misinterpreted with unintentional and mentally harmful consequences.

If a lone worker feels that they are experiencing undue pressure and unable to cope, the system for raising the issue must be pragmatic and workable for lone workers. Most organisations are now recognising the importance of making sure that mental health issues, whether work-related or not, are not stigmatised in the workplace. Organisations must creatively look for ways to ensure that the lone worker has the timely opportunity to confidentially raise mental health issues.

A founding principle of health & safety is to be proactively preventative to avoid ill-health and injury. Organisations must consider what this means for lone worker mental health and wellbeing. This includes an analysis of working methods to identify possible issues in advance and subsequently working to eradicate them. Additionally, they must consider how lone workers can recognise circumstances and early symptoms in themselves which could erode their sense of wellbeing. Possibly even introducing techniques or exercises to help the lone worker to analyse issues, find personal solutions and thereby build their resilience to similar situations in the future.

The effort needed to get this right is worth it. It helps to ensure happy and fulfilled lone workers and produces a win, win situation. Enlightened organisations are realising it improves productivity, reduces staff turnover and increases profitability. More importantly, it is morally and ethically the right thing to do!