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Social isolation and working

So, you’ve listened to the government announcement on work and you realise that you aren’t going to be able to go into your workplace for some time. Your isolation is going to continue with uncertainty over when you will be able meet your work colleagues again in the flesh and whether you will have a job in the future.

It might feel like it was a long time ago, but before the pandemic, working from home was seen as a positive way to take some control over your life as people felt it gave them a better work life balance, greater flexibility and reduced their stress levels.

Now, maybe it’s the time to reappraise whether working from home is going to work for the numbers of employees for whom home working isn’t a choice anymore. Studies are beginning to show that isolation is becoming more widespread for home workers. Maybe this is going to accelerate during the pandemic. Recently the head of a UK bank, suggested that having large numbers of staff working from their kitchen was a good thing, but how many of his kitchen workers are now longing to get back to the cut and thrust of their office?

I’ve found that it’s easy for Isolation to creep up on you. I realised after a couple of weeks of the lockdown that I was hardly going out of the house and I had begun to feel that I was beginning to lose what I considered to be proper contact with my staff and with colleagues from other organisations. Virtual meetings are ok, but you are still isolating, with the hard stop of each meeting where as before you could and would linger to have a chat with someone you haven’t seen for a while.

Research tell us the problem is that social isolation is difficult to talk about. There’s some shame attached to it, as nobody wants to be perceived as a loner or a shut-in. This prompts people to try to pretend that everything is fine A few people I’ve talked to about the reality of working from home is that they feel that professional advancement is slowing down, that they are more out of sight and mind than before and it might be difficult to get involved in new opportunities.

A recent blog post highlighted a lot of the issues that are missing with working remotely. “The main way most of us are connected to our local, geographical communities is through work.” “When you remove that – when you’re not commuting, you don’t bump shoulders, you don’t meet the guy who happens to have a cousin on your block and now you’re friends – you have to work harder to feel connected.” (1)

So, what can you do?

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, taking control is one way of being able to manage working remotely. This can be difficult as it’s easy to get sucked into looking at the news and social media as a way of distracting yourself from your remoteness.  I find that the way news or stories are presented as facts, turning probability into certainty is disturbing. Cutting down on looking and consuming news and media is one of the ways I’ve chosen to manage this and I’ve found it wasn’t difficult to do.  Other things I’ve found to be useful include:

  • Keeping in touch with family and friends on a regular basis via Skype, Facetime and Zoom.
  • Keeping in touch with someone you know who is without family or friends, contacting them and asking them to contact you if they want to.
  • I write a ‘to do’ list that I need to do the next day as I find it helps me keep my focus.
  • I exercise every other day. I find running for at least 30 minutes energises me for the day ahead, but any exercise is fine. There are lots of online fitness sessions to choose from.
  • A friend who has 2 young children has ‘on’ and ‘off’ duty days with her partner. On her off duty days she gives herself a treat which is to listen to audio books. She says it diverts her mind from the pandemic.
  • A lot of friends have started to cook more and made lots dishes that they hadn’t thought of before.

The pandemic has meant that the world of work has changed and the chances are it won’t go back to what it was like in March 2020. This may mean that working from home is an option or an employer’s preferred way of working for some. This will mean people will have to develop strategies for maintaining their resilience is a slightly more remote working environment.



Resilience and Remote Working

So, we are working from home due to the threat of infection by the virus.  We have our home working ‘office’ set up and then we realise that we might be working from home for some considerable time.

We are all dealing with a new event that we haven’t experienced before, or if we have experienced something similar, we may not have coped with it well. I’m guessing for some people that remote working is completely new. Waking up and not having to get in a car or the bus before you start work is ‘different’.

The lack of a commute may appeal to some, but many people use the journey as a nice part of down time. I like to listen to an audiobook on the bus and I’m not the only one who is reading a book or a newspaper. I have a friend who now “goes out to work”, which for him is stepping out of his front door for a 10-minute circular walk and as he walks back in, he is ready to start work.

Freedom or stress?

Once this pandemic is over, there are likely to be more people continuing to work remotely, either employed or self-employed. Whatever their employment status, many face similar challenges. Whilst there may not be anything we can do about the decision to work remotely and from home, we do need to work out if it can ‘work for us’. Where possible, try not to stay remote working if you can see it’s not for you.

There has been lots of research about stress and control at work. The Goldilocks principle applies here – neither too much or too little is the best way to go in developing a positive work dynamic.

I think control is the key to becoming resilient if you have to work remotely. I find it challenging to work in this way. That may be because I have children and a dog. But I like working alone – I find I can get so much done and it gives me freedom to work in a pattern I’m comfortable with. I find it creative, going back and forth to different pieces of work. I don’t like to plan and have a formal structure to the way I work.

What can you do to stay in control?

I’m equating control with being and staying resilient. If you think is the case, then what can you practically do? Here are some principles I think are beneficial:

  • Work out how you spend your time.
  • Be clear about your job outcomes.
  • Work out what is controllable and uncontrollable.
  • Negotiate time and boundaries.

I think if you can work out a way of using these principles to help construct your work routine, then you could manage working remotely effectively. Planning out a structure is also useful out. E.g.  Place yourself under pressure for 50 minutes in the hour, then take a 10 minute complete break doing something else like walk around the house and garden, or, if you really need to, look at emails……. Then start again placing yourself under pressure for 50 minutes. (1) This should begin to give you control over your working day. You can go further and combine them with a more holistic way of thinking, which could include the following:

  • You are not ‘working from home’ – you are ‘at home, during a crisis, trying to work.’
  • Your physical, mental and emotional health is extremely important – you should try to manage this the best you can.
  • You should not try to compensate for lower productivity by working longer hours.
  • Be kind to yourself – don’t judge how you are coping based on how others seem to be coping.
  • Be kind to others – don’t judge how they seem to be coping compared with how you are.
  • Success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal. (2)

Working remotely and from home has some ‘freedom’ attached. At times it can become overwhelming, but we do have the ability to control how we respond. Hopefully, you will find information and practical steps to maintain and improve your resilience in these difficult times.

(1) Adapted from

(2) Adapted from Blue Mountain Community College Boardman, Oregon



A guide to your Employment rights during Covid 19

We have produced this guide because we are being contacted by employees who are worried and concerned about keeping safe at work and want to know their employment rights if they are affected by the COVID 19 virus in the UK.

Self-isolation and sick pay

As of 13 March 2020, employees and workers must receive any Statutory Sick Pay due to them from their first day of self-isolation if it’s because:

  • they have coronavirus
  • they have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough
  • someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
  • they’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111

The money – set at £94.25 a week – is paid by employers for up to 28 weeks. So if you are self-employed, you will not be eligible – but if you are a casual or agency worker, you will be.

To receive SSP you need to be earning at least £118 a week.

SSP can now be claimed from a person’s first day away from work, rather than the fourth day as before.

If someone has symptoms and lives alone, they must self-isolate for 7 days.

If someone lives in a household and is the first to have symptoms, they must self-isolate for 7 days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.

If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, the person with the new symptoms must self-isolate for 7 days. This is regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.

What does self-isolating mean?

If you have been told to self-isolate, you will need to get to the place you are going to stay using your normal mode of transport, once there remain indoors and avoid contact with other people. This will prevent you from spreading the disease to your family, friends and the wider community.

In practical terms, this means that once you reach your residence you must:

  • stay at home
  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport like buses, trains, tubes or taxis
  • avoid visitors to your home
  • ask friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you – such as getting groceries, medications or other shopping

Isolation notes will provide employees with evidence for their employers that they have been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus, either because they have symptoms or they live with someone who has symptoms, and so cannot work.

As isolation notes can be obtained without contacting a doctor, this will reduce the pressure on GP surgeries and prevent people needing to leave their homes.

For the first seven days off work, employees can self-certify so they don’t need any evidence for their employer. After that, employers may ask for evidence of sickness absence. Where this is related to having symptoms of coronavirus or living with someone who has symptoms, the isolation note can be used to provide evidence of the advice to self-isolate.

People who need to claim Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a fit note or an isolation note.

The notes can be accessed through the NHS Website and NHS 111 Online. After answering a few questions, an isolation note will be emailed to the user. If they don’t have an email address, they can have the note sent to a trusted family member or friend, or directly to their employer. The service can also be used to generate an isolation note on behalf of someone else.

Taking Holidays

Employers, employees and workers should be as flexible as they can about holiday during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a good idea to:

  • talk about any plans to use or cancel holiday during coronavirus as soon as possible
  • discuss why holiday might need to be taken or cancelled
  • listen to any concerns, either from staff or the employer
  • welcome and suggest ideas for other options
  • consider everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing
  • be aware that it’s a difficult time for both employers and staff

In most situations, employees and workers should use their paid holiday (‘statutory annual leave’) in their current leave year. This is 5.6 weeks in the UK.

This is important because taking holiday helps people:

  • get enough rest
  • keep healthy, both physically and mentally

If you have been furloughed because there is no work can request and take their holiday in the usual way, if their employer agrees. This includes bank holidays.

Furloughed workers must get their usual pay in full, for any holiday they take.

During the coronavirus pandemic, it may not be possible for everyone to take all their holiday entitlement during the current holiday year.

Employers should still be encouraging workers and employees to take their paid holiday. Employees and workers should also make requests for paid holiday throughout their holiday year, if possible.

The government has introduced a temporary new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to 4 weeks’ paid holiday into their next 2 holiday leave years. This law applies for any holiday the employee or worker does not take because of coronavirus, for example if:

  • they’re self-isolating or too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year
  • they’ve had to continue working and could not take paid holiday

They may also be able to carry over holiday if they’ve been ‘furloughed’ and cannot reasonably use it in their holiday year.

Some employers will already have an agreement to carry over paid holiday. This law does not affect any agreements already in place.

If an employee or worker leaves their job or is dismissed and has carried over paid holiday because of coronavirus, any untaken paid holiday must be added to their final pay (‘paid in lieu’).

Bank holidays are usually part of the legal minimum 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday.

Employers can still require employees and workers to take paid holiday on a bank holiday, unless they’re off sick. They must give employees or workers notice.

Employees and workers can also ask to take a day’s paid holiday on a bank holiday. If the employer agrees, they must get their usual pay in full.

If employees and workers are not sure if bank holidays need to be taken as paid holiday, they should:

  • check their contract
  • talk to their employer

If bank holidays cannot be taken off due to coronavirus, employees and workers should use the holiday at a later date in their leave year.

If this is not possible, bank holidays can be included in the 4 weeks’ paid holiday that can be carried over. This holiday can be taken at any time over the next 2 holiday leave years.

If employers do not already have an agreement in place, they can decide whether they’ll allow extra holiday (more than the 4 weeks’ paid holiday) to be carried over.

Extra holiday may include:

  • the remaining 1.6 weeks of statutory annual leave
  • holiday that’s more than the legal minimum

Employees and workers should check their employment contract or talk to their employer to find out what they’re entitled to.

If the workplace has a recognised trade union, or there are employee representatives who work with the employer on these matters, the employer should involve them in agreeing changes.

If any agreement is made, it’s a good idea for it to be in writing.

Employers should get legal advice if they’re not sure whether to allow extra holiday to be carried over.

An employee may no longer want to take time off they’d previously booked, for example because their hotel cancelled the booking. Their employer can insist they still take the time off, but it’s good practice to get agreement from the employee.

If the employee wants to change when they take this time off, they’ll need to get agreement from their employer.

Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday.

An employer could, for example, shut for a week and tell everyone to use their holiday entitlement.

If the employer decides to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take.

For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.

Employers can also cancel pre-booked paid holiday. If they decide to do this, they must give staff at least the same number of days’ notice as the original holiday request.

For example, if an employee has booked 5 days holiday, the employer must tell them at least 5 days before the holiday starts that it’s cancelled.

This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned and cause upset. So employers should:

  • explain clearly why they need to do this
  • try and resolve anyone’s worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans

 If you think you have developed coronavirus symptoms

If you becomes unwell in the workplace with coronavirus symptoms, you should:

  • tell your employer immediately and go home
  • avoid touching anything
  • cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if you do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
  • use a separate bathroom from others, if possible

If you live alone, you must self-isolate for 7 days. If you live with others and are the first to have symptoms, you must self-isolate for 7 days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.

If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, the person with the new symptoms must self-isolate for 7 days. This is regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.

If an employee needs time off work to look after someone

Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependant’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This could apply to situations to do with coronavirus.

A dependant does not necessarily live with the person, for example they could be an elderly neighbour or relative who relies on the person for help.

There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.

The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.

If a dependant such as a partner, child or relative in the same household gets coronavirus symptoms, they should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a minimum for this time.

What if I’m self-employed?

If you are self-employed and have had a loss of income, you can receive a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly profits over the past three years – up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

Initially, this will be available for three months in one lump-sum payment, payable from June.

You can access the Coronavirus Self Employment Income Support Scheme. As long as you traded in the past financial year, are still trading now and plan to continue doing so.

Most of your income needs to come from self-employment and your average trading profit needs to have been less than £50,000 a year.

If you became self-employed since April 2019, you will not receive any help under this scheme. This is because you haven’t yet have filed a tax return, which is needed to help calculate financial support.

HMRC will contact those who are eligible.

This information was compiled by Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service (SOHAS). We are operating a telephone advice service at the current time. If you live and or work in Sheffield and you need advice on workplace health issues, please ring 0114 2755760 or go to our website and use the ask and expert tab to send a message.


Practical Steps for Working from Home

I’ve been working at home, like millions of other workers have been for the past 4 weeks, with family all around me. I’m lucky in that I have a room I can work in and when the door is shut, they know that I’m working and shouldn’t be disturbed. I have worked from home on an irregular basis for some time and I have got a set up that works for me.

What if you have never had to work from home and now here you are, not quite sure how long your new way of working will last?

When I first started to work from home, I used a laptop and sat at the dining table and soon found out this wasn’t ideal as it started to strain my back.  As worked from home more often, I used a desk that was in the spare room. If this isn’t an option, I would advise that you try not to use your bedroom. Your mind will start to associate working with the bedroom and this could affect your quality of sleep.

I use a laptop and the only way I could get it set up properly was to use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and put the laptop on top of some hardback books as they are sturdier. I followed the rule that your eyes should be level with the top of the screen and make sure that my upper arms are at 90 degrees to the desk and forearms are level with the keyboard. I have an adjustable chair which makes getting the right height easier, if you are using a dining room chair you  might have to sit on a cushion to get the right height and use a cushion for lower back support. This method works just as well if you are using a desktop and monitor. Sitting on a settee, armchair or edge of the bed is definitely not a good idea!

I found that surrounding myself with things that make me happy improves my mood and productivity, like pictures or paintings. If you can, choose a space with lots of natural light that can reduce eye strain and headaches.  I also found that if you mimic how your desk looks like at work that made it easier to complete my work.  If you work better with a cluttered desk, then continue to do that.

Research shows that you can easily work longer hours working from home compared to the office, so give yourself some clues of the time, whether that is having a clock in your vision or set an alarm on your phone.  Tracking your time will make you keep to regular time and help you to take regular breaks. You also need to make sure that you know when to stop work and “close the office door” for the day.

If you think that your health is being affected by your work and you live or work in Sheffield, we are operating a telephone advice service. Please go to our website and click on the “ask an expert” tab to leave a message or ring us on 0114 2755760

New Way Of Working


From today SOHAS is moving to a telephone based advice service.

If you live or work in Sheffield and you want some advice on a work and health issue, please go to our website and click on the Ask the Expert tab to send a message or ring us on 0114 2755760.

If you have been in touch with our service before, please email the adviser who gave you advice or ring on 0114 2755760 and we will arrange for the adviser to get in touch with you and give you advice over the phone.




Caffeine and Productivity

Caffeine, the world’s most commonly used drug; be it through coffee, tea or energy drinks. As someone whose coffee consumption can only be described as an aberration; having since stepped into the realm of the workplace, my consumption of coffee hit an all time high. A coffee every hour at work was becoming a regular occurrence. After initial consumption I found I was more alert, focused and motivated. However, a few hours after the last cup, I noticed a gradual decline in those areas of cognitive function in addition to feeling ‘jittery’ and overly tired. Excessive consumption has been increasingly prominent in society today and is deeply instilled among the culture of work, where 54% of caffeine intake is derived from coffee [1].

Generally, caffeine has proven to improve memory and cognitive function. Regular coffee drinking may well in fact improve focus, alertness and productivity. However, as with all stimulant drugs our bodies build up a tolerance and therefore, in order to achieve the same effect, we must consume more. This also means temporary withdrawal symptoms will be introduced once we stop fueling ourselves with caffeine. This can range from headaches to substantial changes in our sleeping patterns. Consuming limited quantities can provide us with the boost we may need but having too much can exacerbate problems such as anxiety. Personally, I found this to be mitigating my performance later in the day when I had tasks to complete outside of work. This meant I was drinking more to keep my productivity levels consistent for a longer duration meaning when it came to when I needed to sleep, I was either still wide awake or slightly anxious. Reduction in your hours of sleep are indicative that caffeine taken six hours before initial sleep can have a huge disruptive influence on the sleep cycle [2] meaning the next day I was more tired and therefore in desire of more caffeine to function throughout my working day.

Moving onto energy drinks, Red Bull being the most popular among a younger demographic. Despite the consensus, coffee tends to have more caffeine in it. The typical 250ml can of Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine, whilst the typical large cup of coffee can contain between 90-160mg. Red Bull only seems to be more caffeinated due to the culmination of caffeine, taurine and sugar which actively increases our heart rates and blood pressure whilst enhancing the effects of caffeine. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down, ultimately resulting in a much harsher ‘crash’.

So, which one would be the better option for enhancing productivity? An energy drink or coffee? In spite of coffee having a higher dosage of caffeine than energy drinks, energy drinks tend to be consumed more rapidly, whilst coffee is generally sipped, meaning the deliverance of caffeine is much quicker so you are more likely to reach the standard quota of daily caffeine consumption (400mg) from drinking energy drinks than coffee. However, coffee and energy drinks cannot necessarily be viewed in the same perspective as they are two very different beverages.  I believe taking smaller doses, learning and understanding how your body reacts to these beverages is arguably the best method of consumption.

Upon reflection, caffeine in any form has both positive and negative attributes and similarly to most substances, should be used in moderation. It would be useful to take note that a dosage of 500-600 mg of caffeine has the corresponding effects of a relatively low dose of amphetamines [3]. Caffeine intake is not the fundamental method of enhancing productivity; especially due to it being highly addictive. Although caffeine itself makes us more alert- and this alertness is what helps productivity- there are indeed alternative methods to enhance this, such as a good, a consistent sleep schedule, exercise and a healthy diet, all believed to be contributing factors.

A few tips to implement in daily life may prove to be useful:

  1. Do not drink caffeinated drinks right after waking up as this increases tolerance to caffeine because it replaces the natural cortisol-induced boost instead of adding to it.
  2. Theobromine in caffeine is the cause of the major “crash” you usually get after taking caffeine- Drinking water after caffeine consumption helps to lessen this effect.
  3. Lifestyle changes to reduce fatigue such as exercising more, a balanced diet and sticking to the same sleep schedule
  4. The primary reason for people drinking coffee has been found to be due to liking the taste. Therefore, drinking decaf would be an effective alternative to a caffeinated beverage.


[1] Sleep and Caffeine (2013). Retrieved 24 February 2020, from

[2] Wikoff, D., Welsh, B. T., Henderson, R., Brorby, G. P., Britt, J., Myers, E., … & Tenenbein, M. (2017). Systematic review of the potential adverse effects of caffeine consumption in healthy adults, pregnant women, adolescents, and children. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 109, 585-648.

[3] Lane, S. D., Green, C. E., Schmitz, J. M., Rathnayaka, N., Fang, W. B., Ferré, S., & Moeller, F. G. (2014). Comparison of caffeine and d-amphetamine in cocaine-dependent subjects: differential outcomes on subjective and cardiovascular effects, reward learning, and salivary paraxanthine. Journal of addiction research & therapy5(2), 176.

Sleep and Work

In the 1980’s I remember politicians and businessmen telling people how little sleep they needed to a run a country or a conglomerate. The magic figure seemed to be 4 hours with the implication being that if you slept any longer you wouldn’t be able to manage the pace of life and weren’t leadership material.

The perception that the pace of life is part of the cause why we don’t to sleep for long as we used to is an interesting but misleading one. Go back to the 1840’s and the introduction of the telegram meant that the middle and upper classes started to complain that their pace of life was too fast and the idea of a double sleep (1) started to change into the sleep pattern we have today.

Coming back to the present day, the issue of lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep is beginning to receive the same levels of attention as the menopause and working carers within a work context. It is estimated that 200,000 working days lost due to insufficient sleep each year in the UK. There is not a lot of research on sleep and work. However, research published in July 2016 by Hult International Business School suggests improving employees’ poor sleep may not only boost their health and wellbeing but may give businesses a competitive advantage. (2)

Why is lack of sleep getting lots of attention? I believe it’s because businesses are starting to look in more detail of the UK’s dismal record on levels of productivity over the past 12 years. While getting people to sleep better is not going to solve the countries productivity problem on it’s own, better sleep can as a contributor to living better, which may help people be more productive at work.

If you are sleeping poorly, recent research identified the following signs of how that can affect behavior in the workplace:

  • Decreased communication
  • Reduced performance
  • Greater risk taking
  • Increased intake of caffeine/energy drinks
  • Poor concentration/easily distracted
  • Poor mood/inappropriate behaviour (3)

A way of working out the best sleep pattern for you is find out where you are an owl or a lark (4) This can be important as it may indicate why you might not be sleeping properly. e.g. if your body clock is based around going to sleep early in the evening and you are consistently going to be later in the evening,

One of the most effective ways to help improve your sleep is to work out your circadian rhythm. Adults have a circadian rhythm of 90 minutes and this is very regular. The cycling of sleep follows this rhythm along with hunger and thirst, alertness and creativity. To work out the timing of your circadian rhythm, wait until the early afternoon and take a note of the time of when you yawn. This is a sign that you are your alertness is at your lowest and where you are most suspectable to go to sleep. You can then work out the times during the evening when you are most likely to go to sleep easily, by adding on 45 minutes to the time you yawned.  If you miss your optimal time to sleep, wait for around 45 minutes or until you yawn again and then should be able to go to sleep.

If you think that you don’t sleep well that are some practical things you can do to improve your sleep, these include:

  • Try not to eat 2 hours before you go to sleep. Digesting food will make your body active and produce sugar which will give you energy which will make it more difficult to go to sleep.
  • Try and set a regular time to go to bed and wake up including at the weekend.
  • Alcohol and caffeine intake can affect your sleep so try not to drink too much of either in the afternoon or evening.

While the issues around sleep and how much are or should be getting are not going to diminish whether from a business or personal point of view, It is important that everyone tries to maximize the quality of sleep they get. As ever change sometimes takes a long time to put be put in place, but I hope that you have found the practical steps in this blog useful.