The COVID-19 pandemic, isolation, and rising unemployment have all joined forces to disrupt the quality of life and well-being of employees around the world. While policymakers are understandably focused on the physical ramifications of the pandemic, mental health is another worldwide threat arising as it drastically altered many facets of a worker’s existence. Despite the optimism that normalcy will happen again, the pandemic has left its mark on all of us, particularly in terms of mental health. While there are certain advantages to working from home, employees have begun to realize the magnitude of the exacerbated mental health issues of full-time remote employment.
A study by Buffer found that 22% had difficulties disengaging after work hours, 19% suffered from loneliness, and 8% had difficulties staying motivated. Nearly half of employees claim that their mental health has deteriorated, with loneliness, anxiety, and pressure being prevalent symptoms.
Moreover, a survey conducted by the Royal Society of Public Health found that 67% of people feel less connected to colleagues, 59% feel more isolated from coworkers, and 56% found it harder to switch off after moving to work from home due to the pandemic. In addition, a study conducted in April entitled “The Mental Health Crisis Generated By COVID-19: Why It’s Critical and How You Can Retain Your Sanity”, found 75% of employees were experiencing social isolation which was correlated with working from home.
According to Dr. Dominique Steiler, a professor of people, organizations, and society at Grenoble School of Business and head of Mindfulness, Well-Being at Work, and Economic Peace, the more employees who worked from home, the more socially excluded they seemed. Individuals continue to be feeling increasingly isolated as a result of a lack of interaction. People who work from home, in particular, feel disconnected since they don’t have enough social interaction. Loneliness is linked to poor physical and emotional health, as well as lower productivity, among remote employees. Especially for those who live alone or are home by themselves.
Working alone day after day might result in feelings of loneliness and isolation. When workers are stressed or concerned, the sudden loss of a genuine network might make them feel as though they have nowhere to rely on. Dr. Dominique stresses that it’s even more difficult to build a strong rapport in this setting, which is critical for mental health.
This disparity is frequently caused by a lack of organizational support. Employees will become more lonely, depressed, and anxious the longer they go without connecting.
According to Josh Feast, CEO and Co-founder of the software company, Cogito Corporation, supervisors are forced to find innovative ways to connect with and manage workers from afar, but it can be accomplished: “Supervisors can effectively support employees from a distance, by ensuring their colleagues feel heard and know they are not alone. Exhibiting heightened sensitivity to emotional intelligence – particularly in a time where physical isolation has become a necessity – is vital. Human-to-human connections still matter; it’s important to go beyond just mindlessly asking how your employees are doing, especially when supervisors can’t simply pass by desks and wave hello. To ensure everyone feels fully supported – emotionally – supervisors must set up alternate methods of oversight. Fortunately, technology is now more human-aware and can aid us in these efforts to remain connected and lead with empathy.”
Employers and team leaders should address this challenge by determining strategies on how to eradicate loneliness among the employees such as virtual team building, monthly virtual consultations, and gatherings. Companies should commence establishing linkages and interconnections between remote and team members. Building relationships can significantly reduce disengagement and boost effective collaboration. Thus, the management should always ensure their workers’ mental well-being. In accordance with the company’s effort, employees must be willing to help themselves as well by endeavoring social events outside of work that would provide them with the social engagement they deserve while still adhering to COVID-19 safety regulations.
They may spend some time doing things other than work that are fun–- joining or organizing groups inside their company for regular social interaction, scheduling video chats with friends and family on a regular basis, or building a learning environment that will improve one’s health and bring satisfaction. The skills of meditation and yoga are also recommended in times of loneliness. Various academics advocate journaling, reading, art projects, cooking new dishes, breathing exercises, or listening to a calming podcast or music to help overcome this issue. Many of us may find solutions by altering our routines, concentrating on work-life balance, and having a network of support to turn to for assistance in times of loneliness.
Another mental health challenge being faced by workers is anxiety and stress. A study by Qualtrics entitled “The Other COVID-19 Crisis: Mental Health” identifies the nature of the global mental health crisis and provides data that sheds light on the issues employees are facing. It tapped the opinion of those who work from an office, those who are new to working remotely which is the significant majority of the sample at 58%, those who have always worked remotely, and more. Results have shown that 67% of people report higher levels of stress since the outbreak of COVID-19; 57% say they have greater anxiety since the outbreak; 54% say they are more emotionally exhausted; 53% say they feel sadness day-to-day; 50% feel they are more irritable; 42% report their overall mental health has declined.
The fact that these are the findings of a study designed to assess workers’ mental health is really concerning. Pandemic-style productivity improvements may prove untenable in the future unless executives address the roots of employee concern. This is because anxiety has been shown to undermine job satisfaction, negatively damage interpersonal connections with coworkers, and lower work performance.
All of the fundamental work from home issues mentioned above may eventually contribute to a deterioration in mental health if anxiety and stress are not effectively addressed. And, while many people have established coping mechanisms for dealing with anxiety and stress in the workplace, dealing with job-related stress at home is a whole other scenario. Employees are compelled to confront these concerns head-on, with so many jobs under threat and employment instability on the rise.
When people work and sleep in the same environment, the line between work and home life redefines a whole new perspective. You may feel compelled to use your phone when you should be resting. Taking pauses throughout the day is one strategy for staying calm and avoiding being anxious, stressed, or exhausted during the course of the day. Taking a little break from work may often be as simple as going outside for fresh air, exercising, having your own recreation, reading a book, binge-watching a Korean drama series, or picking up your phone and browsing through social media for a few minutes.
However, spending too much time on social media might have detrimental consequences on one’s mental health. Instead, utilize the time dwelling on something entirely disconnected from your job. If anxiety and stress come to the extent that your work and yourself are being compromised already, it is best to seek professional help from psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors. MentalHealth.gov or the National Institute of Mental Health is also accessible whether you’re seeking help yourself or looking for guidance in supporting others.
Mental health is timely, relevant, and valuable in sustaining our sanity in our modern times, whether it is at work, at home, or within ourselves. In order to succeed and flourish in this remote area in both our physical and mental aspects of life, it will always be a two-way process. One should be willing to self-assess and self-reflect when noticing indicators and changes in oneself that indicate declining mental health so that one can take appropriate action. After a year of coping with a pandemic and working through it, now is an opportunity to check in with yourself and assess your mental health. Working remotely can be challenging for one’s mental health, and it’s important to remember that along with these challenges, there will always be a way to conquer them.
Written By: Frances De Guzman