The Institute of Directors has urged the Government to provide clearer guidance to businesses for supporting remote workers, voicing concerns that official advice paid little or no attention to workers’ mental wellbeing.

In a new study, Managing Mental Health in Changing Business Models, the IoD found that almost three-quarters of members proactively offered employees flexible working practices, with the most common reason being to improve staff’s work-life balance. While highlighting the benefits of changing work models, the business leaders’ group said that ensuring the mental wellbeing of homeworkers raised particular challenges, and called for official guidance to be regularly updated to adapt to shifting work practices.

In a foreword to the paper, Kelly Tolhurst MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, states that ‘some forms of flexible working – especially those that involve extensive working from home, or remote working – can lead to a sense of isolation or an “always on” culture.’

The report also calls for greater clarity on employment definitions, and for support for employers to be disseminated through the network of Local Enterprise Partnerships and Growth Hubs. Meanwhile, it encourages business leaders to take active steps to ensure they continue to enable the development of employees based out of the office.

Kamile Stankute, author of the report, said “The greater flexibility that new technology allows can be a huge benefit to business and employee alike. However, when it comes to workers’ mental wellbeing, remote working is a double-edged sword. While potentially facilitating an improved work-life balance, it can also lead to feelings of isolation and can blur the boundary between work and leisure. It’s often the visible signs of stress that employers are able to pick up on, and without these it can be trickier to keep track of workers’ welfare.”

“Business leaders can’t afford to take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach when it comes to remote workers. Directors are increasingly alive to the issue of mental health, but the wellbeing of homeworkers is a blind spot in the guidance that is widely available.”

“Clear and simple advice on the responsibilities employers have around remote working is needed. At a time when more and more firms are seeking to embrace this opportunity, particularly on an informal basis, a little clarity would go a long way.”

Full survey results

613 respondents, conducted 12-26 October 2018

Does your (primary) organisation proactively offer flexible working practices for the employees (e.g. remote working, job-sharing, tailored hours)?  

Full-time employees Part-time employees
1 Yes 73% 72%
2 No 25% 25%
3 Don’t know 2% 3%

Which of the following factors have driven your decision to actively facilitate flexible working in your (primary) organisation?  

To improve staff work/life balance 70%
To help reduce overheads 22%
To reduce the commuting burden for staff 42%
To facilitate staff care responsibilities at home 32%
To attract a wider pool of talent 45%
To make it easier to employ individuals with disabilities 7%
To help reduce absenteeism and sickness 15%
To help retain staff 60%
Other (please specify) 7%
Don’t know 1%