Lone Worker Welfare – Stress & Mental Health

If you’re responsible for lone workers operating out in the field, you’re likely aware that their jobs can be challenging. However, you may not have a complete understanding of how working alone can affect an employee’s mental and physical health. Here, we take a brief look at why lone workers may require additional assistance, before examining how you, as an employer, can help support them.

Lone workers and stress

Though stress and mental health is a key concern amongst all employees, lone workers are statistically more likely to suffer from these types of issues. Recent surveys have demonstrated that approximately two-thirds of lone workers report psychological distress, a significant increase on the figure for those that work within a team.

Lone workers are also more at risk from acts of violence, aggression or intimidation. The isolation, responsibility, and pressure to make decisions on your own often combine to cause a significant amount of work-related stress.

Lone Worker Welfare -  Stress & Mental Health

  1. Understand their day-to-day work

While you may be the one to set your employees’ targets and define their responsibilities, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a good understanding of what their average day looks like. Your own daily commitments and schedule may mean you don’t have a true understanding of the stresses and pressures they face, nor whether they’re able to carry out the role without it impacting on their health.

Many employees are unwilling to go to their manager to discuss aspects of their day-to-day routine because they believe any complaint will be viewed as a failure. Consequently, it’s up to those in positions of responsibility to improve their understanding of lone workers’ everyday reality. This can be achieved in one of several ways.

  1. Ask lone workers to keep a record of their daily routine. Ensure that they know that this isn’t intended as a means of checking up on them but so that you can better understand their work
  2. Talk to lone workers about the various aspects of their daily routine
  3. Ask lone workers to provide you with information as to what they find difficult about their everyday work

  1. Respect and communicate the organisational hierarchy

A great deal of lone worker stress results from the sensation that they’re alone and responsible for making decisions that they don’t feel qualified to take. The fact that lone workers often have no one to turn to when they’re unsure what course of action to pursue means that they often feel as though they’re under a significant amount of pressure.

Lone Worker Welfare -  Stress & Mental Health

Those responsible for lone workers can help mitigate this in the following ways.

  1. Ensure that all employees understand what their responsibilities are and where they begin and end. In many cases, lone workers are put in a position where they’re making decisions outside of their expertise or above their pay grade.
  2. Communicate the organisation’s hierarchy to all workers. Every employee should know who they’re to go to if they require advice or feel as though a particular decision goes beyond their individual responsibilities
  3. Encourage lone workers to contact the relevant supervisor whenever necessary
  4. If you’re comfortable with lone workers making certain decisions on their own, let them know that this is the case and check whether they’re comfortable with such an arrangement

  1. Check-in with your lone workers

In many instances, lone workers only hear from those higher up the hierarchy when something has gone wrong. This effectively shuts down communication between lone workers and those responsible for them by associating dialogue with negative outcomes.

To prevent this from becoming the case, it’s vital that managers and supervisors check-in with their lone workers on a regular basis. Such check-ins don’t have to be for any particular reason and they don’t necessarily have to focus on the everyday reality of being a lone worker.

Often, lone workers will be grateful for an opportunity to simply talk with a colleague. It might give them an opportunity to vent their frustrations, share a joke, or ask a question that other employees would direct towards colleagues in the office.

  1. Provide them with safeguards

Being a lone worker, you don’t have the sense of safety in numbers that comes with working in a team. Many jobs involve putting yourself in challenging situations, where you feel exposed and vulnerable. This can have a significant impact on your mental health and the extent to which you enjoy the work and are able to perform it.

Lone Worker Welfare -  Stress & Mental Health

It is possible for managers and supervisors to help in this regard. They can:

  1. Provide lone workers with equipment that helps them feel safe. These lone worker solutions include monitoring or alarm systems
  2. Ask lone workers to provide guidance on safety protocols – they’ll typically have the best understanding of the challenges lone workers face
  3. Ensure that there are individuals in the office who are responsible for monitoring lone worker safety

“The Shield Lone Worker telephone service is easy to use and manage and supports lone workers when they are making off-site visits/home working/working alone in the office, and may need to raise an alert if the unexpected happens” Mary Elizabeth Fannon, National Manager – Shield Lone Worker

  1. Ensure they feel part of the team

Though lone workers are very much part of the workplace team, the isolating nature of this type of role can mean that they often don’t feel this way. While many lone workers will spend a considerable amount of time in the office, others will only pop in once a day and some will rarely visit at all. Consequently, it’s absolutely essential that you think about ways you can make them feel a part of the team. This may mean;

  • Arranging social events to ensure lone workers are able to mix and mingle with other employees
  • Considering facilitating activities that bring employees together e.g sports teams
  • Bringing lone workers into the office on a more regular basis, if possible

  1. Look out for warning signs

Lone workers are more likely to experience certain problems than those employees that work within a team environment. Studies show that lone workers are more prone to a wide range of physical health problems, such as issues with their neck and back, as well as chronic fatigue. There are also concerning statistics that point towards a greater level of stress amongst lone workers.

Lone Worker Welfare -  Stress & Mental Health

Supervisors and managers should ensure that they’re aware of the most common issues experienced by lone workers and educate themselves as to potential warning signs that will help them identify these problems. Not every lone worker will be willing to go to their boss with their concerns and having a manager who’s willing to start such a conversation may be the difference between them receiving the help they need and them struggling on without assistance.

What Next?

Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the mental health issues experienced by many employees and how these affect both their personal and professional life. However, the effects of working alone are still often underestimated.

The first step in improving the assistance available to lone workers is making yourself available to them and developing a better understanding of what they experience on a day-to-day basis. From there, the six pointers we’ve listed above will provide you with the foundations on which to build a more caring, compassionate, safe and successful working environment for lone workers.

Have a question or want further information on supporting your lone workers? Our expert team have been providing lone worker safety solutions for over 25 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line.