Mental Health at Home: Continued Remote Work and Its Implications

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According to Dr Dominique Steiler, a reputed professor at Grenoble School of Business, the abrupt shift to a remote work arrangement has been an unpleasant shock for various corporate professionals across industries. Dominique heads the department of Mindfulness, Well-Being at Work, and Economic Peace. His work includes supporting business managers and corporations in an effort to drive mental wellness and healthcare in the professional environment. 

A report by Qualtrics found that the ongoing effect of COVID-mandated working from home (WFH) has had an undeniable impact on everyone's mental well-being. Over 41.6% of respondents reported a downward trend in emotional well-being since the initial outbreak of COVID-19. 

Factors affecting mental health today

Since the pandemic started, Dr Steiler has noted a marked rise in anxiety and depression in the workplace. There are three different ways remote work is harming employees' emotional well-being:

  • Lack of physical connection - As per Dr Steiler, employees feel lonely and isolated without access to the essential help they need. The absence of physical proximity can leave staff members feeling like they have no outlet when they feel worried or restless. Remote work makes it more difficult to maintain a support group of like-minded peers, which is vital for good mental well-being. 
  • Adapting to remote work - Adjusting to the challenges of remote work can likewise add to an already heavy workload. There's an increased drive to work longer hours, and for employees without a well-defined WFH setup, there's no distinction between home and work life. This severely impacts the work-life balance of employees across the board. 
  • Constant virtual meetings - The latest trend among teams is to hold consecutive virtual gatherings, which would not be conceivable in an actual office. With fewer chances for casual socialization, a large number of employees invest more time and energy in these virtual gatherings. However, these virtual meetings can contribute to greater exhaustion and leave members feeling disengaged from their peers at the end of the work day. This issue is especially intense during bigger gatherings, where the speaker can't see individual appearances. This reduces the efficiency and impact of meetings, as the speaker can't "read the room" to see whether team members are paying attention to the message being conveyed.

Tips to fight the negative impacts of working from home

All of the facts mentioned so far add up to an increase in stress and anxiety levels, which is terrible for both long-term employee wellness and the company's overall productivity. Things being as they are, here are a few ways through which organizations can overcome these challenges:

  • Break the monotony - When working from home, one's schedule can often become tedious and repetitive. Adding new and inventive "life hacks" to the daily routine can help counteract this effectively. Create "time blocks" where you define what is to be done at what time, and setting up clearly demarcated "work" and "non-work" zones within your home. This can help manage the work-life balance that seems so elusive when working remotely.
  • Take regular breaks - Going along with the time-blocking method above, maintain a discipline of taking breaks from work at regular intervals throughout the day. These breaks could be short ones where you quickly stand and stretch, or longer ones where you take a walk around the house and do other things. This helps break up the work day into chunks, and helps reduce risks of burning out from work as well.
  • Stop guilt-tripping - Having near-constant access to workplace materials can make people feel the need to work constantly. As per Qualtrics, 25% of employees working from home reported increased feelings of guilt since the pandemic began. This guilt comes from feeling like they're "not doing enough". However, in these unprecedented times of changing work-styles, it is important to slow down and take a moment to assess one's own thoughts. Meditation, yoga, and listening to calming music can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression when working remotely.
  • Reach out, but within reason - While physically meeting colleagues and loved ones may be difficult, online catch-ups can be beneficial in maintaining a bond among peers. This can help employees feel connected and can help reduce feelings of loneliness as well. However, the caveat to this is overexposure to online meetings. As Dr Steiler said, an overabundance of video conferences can have a negative impact on employee engagement. Implementing a policy of required break time between meetings, planning out days in the month where there are no meetings, and allowing employees to maintain a healthy boundary between work and home life can go a long way in improving mental health in the long term.
  • Seek professional help - When feelings of anxiety, burnout, depression and stress become unbearable, it is often a good idea to seek assistance from a trained mental health professional. While a strong support system of peers and loved ones definitely helps maintain a healthy mental state, a professional can help with deep-rooted issues that affect the long-term mental health of an individual.

In closing

Mental health is an important piece of the puzzle that is a healthy life. With so many things around us constantly in flux, mental health and well-being becomes the most important factor in leading a fulfilled and rewarding work-life. This is true not just for the sake of the corporate machine moving the world forward, but for the dedicated employees and teams making it work on a daily basis. The tips and facts mentioned here will help employees and managers alike in creating a more sustainable model for remote work, and help maintain a healthy mental state for the foreseeable future of the workplace - remote or otherwise.

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