Is Isolation Affecting Your Mental Health

By: WorkSafe Victoria

Reduce risks for your employees associated with working alone or in isolation

Understanding the risks

People who work alone or in isolation face different levels of risk compared to other situations.

They may be unable to access immediate assistance from team members, other people, or emergency services due to the location, time and type of work they are doing. Employees may also be unable to receive assistance with difficult tasks, identifying hazards. They may also be unable to notice the visible signs of fatigue which can increase the risk of injury.

Not only are these employees potentially at an increased risk of physical harm but working alone or in isolation can have a negative effect on their mental health.

Keeping records of any safety issues, how much of a risk they are, and how you are fixing these problems shows your employees that you care about their safety.

A workplace where employees feel safe at work, wherever that is, is not only a positive for your employees but also for your workplace.

How will I benefit from this action?

An employee can be considered alone or in isolation even if other people are close by or if they are alone for a short amount of time, days or weeks. (Comcare, 2013).

People who work alone or in isolation face different levels of risk compared to other employees. They may be unable to access immediate assistance from team members, other people or emergency services due to the location, time and type of work they are doing. Employees may also be unable to receive assistance with difficult tasks, identifying hazards. They may also be unable to notice the visible signs of fatigue which can increase the risk of injury.

Not only are these employees potentially at an increased risk of physical harm but working alone or in isolation can have a negative effect on their mental health. A lack of social contact, particularly over an extended period, may lead to anxiety, lack of motivation and loss of involvement in decision-making within the organisation.

Working remotely, such as working from home, and outside of regular working hours continues to rise in Australia with many positives seen from this flexible working arrangement, but a number of important health and safety considerations are needed to support your employees.

A workplace where employees feel safe at work, wherever that is, is not only a positive for your employees but also for your workplace. This can lead to increases in performance, productivity and much more.

Key stats and facts

Employees who feel isolated at work experience lower job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and are more likely to leave. Lack of management action is a major contributor to isolation in the workplace

Step 1

Understand what working alone, remotely or in isolation means

Remote work is at locations where access to resources and communications is difficult and travel times may be lengthy. Isolated work is where there are no or few other people around where access to help from others especially in an emergency may be difficult.

An employee can be considered to be working alone or in isolation even if other people are close by, whether for a short amount of time or even weeks on end. Therefore staff working in larger institutions and cities can also still be working alone or in isolation.

Some examples of working alone or in isolation are listed below:

  • working from home
  • when travelling for work e.g. in a hotel or an airport or different office or site
  • as a contractor at a location of another employer
  • hotelling – working in rented or shared office space
  • working alone physically – unpacking in a warehouse
  • working away from others – a long haul trip
  • out of hours work – outside of standard working hours such as shift work
  • long-distance travelling
  • working unsupervised
  • working alone from an unstaffed satellite office, mobile or virtual office
  • workplace isolation – working on a farm or in a home office
  • working in isolation with the public

Comcare, 2017, Comcare’s Guide to Remote or Isolated Work

The risks associated with working alone, remotely or in isolation can be assessed differently in each workplace and industry. Each situation should be evaluated on its own, taking into account specific risk factors.

Step 2

Understand the risks of working alone, remotely or in isolation in your industry

People who work alone or in isolation from the workplace or workplace community face different levels of risk compared to other employees. These employees may be unable to access immediate assistance from team members, other people or emergency services due to the location, time and type of work they are doing.

In addition, concerns about employee safety and welfare, threats and attacks from passengers, clients or the general public are linked to poor employee mental health and wellbeing.

Some other risks associated with working alone or in isolation can include:

  • forms of occupational violence and aggression, such as road rage, customer, client or patient abuse, vehicle or machinery accidents
  • slips, trips and falls
  • employee health concerns
  • social isolation
  • inadequate equipment or space for setting up an ergonomically appropriate work space
  • fatigue

For those employees who work from home regularly or have just begun working from home, be aware that a lack of social contact, particularly over an extended period, may lead to anxiety, lack of motivation and loss of involvement in decision-making within the organisation.

Other risks include trust issues with employer, potential expectations about working hours or working more hours, a threat to career advancement and the potential resentment of staff who do might not have the flexibility to work from home.

Step 3

Talk with your employees to understand their experiences working alone or in isolation

It is important that you speak with your employees to find out if they are experiencing isolation in their day to day activities. There are many ways you can talk with and begin to support your employees around this. This can include:

  • one-on-one discussions with your managers and employees
  • having working alone, remotely or in isolation as an agenda item at your regular meetings. These may be ‘toolbox talks’, production meetings, staff meetings or through any other channels your organisation uses to communicate
  • as you casually walk around your workplace with your staff
  • through your health and safety representatives
  • through your health and safety committees
  • focus groups
  • interviews
  • staff surveys

Here are some conversation prompts to get you started.

  • How do you know when you are at risk when you are working alone? What do you consider the physical and mental health risks involved with working alone are?
  • What things can the organisation do to improve your physical and mental safety?
  • What support networks are in place (in addition to physical safety)?
  • Who do you call when you need to reflect or debrief regarding your work or when you need assistance?
  • How would the workplace support you if you feel unsafe?

Think about any employees who work for periods with little or no contact with other people and make sure you include them in your discussions about the risks associated with working in isolation. Make an effort to organise regular meetings, informal get-togethers, tailor teleworking to individual needs and consider employee physical environments and workstations.

Also, consider those employees who may be on maternity or paternity leave, work cover claims or return to work plans, sabbatical leave or other extended periods of leave. It is important that your workplace stays connected with these employees to ensure they remain up to date with workplace news and changes as well as maintaining connections with colleagues and helps their transition back to work.

By | 2020-07-14T11:10:32+10:00 June 26th, 2020|WHS / OHS|Comments Off on Is Isolation Affecting Your Mental Health