When the pandemic first took hold, the new remote working models adopted in many industries were novel and exciting. However, organizations and institution leaders continue to struggle with reviewing plans, policies, and regulations surrounding remote work models. Although many companies have tried to address the situation by introducing hybrid work models that encourage both remote and in-office work, employees are still in a state of flux. Not surprisingly, the changes have had positive and negative impacts on employee mental health and work performance.
Initially, the transition to remote work models was hailed as a step forward for health and well-being in the workplace. But while working from home has given some employees more freedom, trying to juggle work, childcare, and virtual schooling has proven to be very difficult for others.
A recent survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association showed an increase in the number of people who believe their employer has become more understanding of their mental health needs. However, the same study reported that less people feel they can speak openly about their mental health at work. The data shows that public opinion on work-related mental health issues is mixed. In this article we will examine how working from home may improve the mental health of some employees, while reducing the mental health of others.
How Remote Work May Positively Impact Employee Mental Health
As mentioned earlier, some employees have flourished since they were given the opportunity to work from home. Here are some of the most commonly reported benefits of remote work:
1. Increased Productivity
Prior to the adoption of remote working models, employers were concerned about the productivity of employees who work from home. The major concern was that employees would easily get distracted by family members, tasks, TV, and household chores while working remotely. However, many employees reported increased productivity since there were fewer distractions in their home environments. Statistics show that 25% of employees felt more productive while working from home as they did not have to engage in office gossip and were not sidetracked with impromptu meetings.
2. Better Work-Life Balance
During the pandemic, many employees realized that most of their time was taken up by work even when they were not at the office. Commuting to and from work made the work day longer. By contrast, working from home meant not having to drive or take a long train journey to their place of employment. This resulted in more time to spend with family, pick up new hobbies, sleep, relax, and attend to urgent family matters. Being able to carry out important domestic activities while sticking to a work schedule allowed employees, especially those who are parents, to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
3. Increased Agility and Flexibility
Working from home has enabled employees to set work schedules that suit them and work when they feel they are most productive. For example, they may prefer to work very early in the morning and taking their break in the afternoon. Cloud models have enabled them to store and share tasks with their co-workers at their convenience, thus promoting teamwork. Flexible work schedules have allowed many employees to achieve greater levels of motivation and satisfaction in their jobs. Furthermore, employers are now able to spot and assist struggling employees since they may show signs of burnout faster than when they work in the office.
How Remote Work May Negatively Impact Employee Mental Health
While there are some mental health benefits to working from home, there are also potential dangers that you need to watch out for. According to the United Nations, the pandemic highlighted the fact that more investment is needed to improve mental health services. Here are a few of the issues that have popped up:
1. Loneliness and Isolation
Working from home, especially when employees live alone, can feel lonely and isolated. Some employees had to make adjustments from hectic work environments and schedules to sitting alone at their desk. The transition has also eliminated the opportunity to participate in face-to-face meetings and reduced social interactions with co-workers. As humans are social creatures, the physical disconnect is almost unbearable for some. Although virtual conversations with devices are available, they hardly compare with social interactions in-person. The result has been a sharp decline in work performance and satisfaction for some employees.
2. Stress and Anxiety
Remote work often comes with the additional pressure of maintaining performance standards while trying to manage unmanageable workloads. These circumstances leave employees feeling highly anxious and stressed. The situation is made worse for employees who have children to attend to or sick relatives that need additional care. Additionally, a lack of communication with co-workers means they are not able to get immediate help if they need it. Sitting for long hours while juggling domestic tasks can quickly lead to burnout if employees are not able to find the right balance between their secular work and their responsibilities at home.
Depression and other serious mental illnesses are exacerbated by loneliness, social isolation, and lack of support. Many employees who were diagnosed with mental or emotional issues before the COVID-19 pandemic, experienced a significant decline in their mental health. The adverse conditions and widespread feeling of hopelessness brought on by the pandemic may have also triggered the onset of depression in some people. Workers who faced these issues without adequate access to mental health services likely saw a sharp decline in their productivity.
How to Make Working from Home Healthier
Employers can reduce the workload they give to their workers and encourage them to spend more time with their family. This will do much to reduce stress, anxiety, social isolation, and feelings of loneliness. They may also plan virtual meetups where employees may interact in a relaxed setting. These virtual meetings may be especially beneficial for workers who live alone.
Another strategy employers can adopt is providing their employees with access to mental health services that are available even during quarantine. For example, online therapy may benefit many people who need emotional support while living and working in isolation. Employers may also introduce their employees to digital therapeutics that deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions through the use of high quality software programs. These interventions can help to improve employee mental health until traditional in-person therapy is possible.