Far from being a temporary solution to the problems posed by the pandemic, remote work looks like it’s here to stay and most people (nine out of 10 workers) are happy about their new working arrangement. After all, people can save literally hours commuting a day, they can achieve a better work-life balance, and they can spend more time with their families.
However, the question remains—can remote work pose its own set of mental health challenges and if so, how can these be overcome?
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The Negative Health Impacts of Remote Work
A survey undertaken in May 2021 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) found that the majority of employees working from home said they experienced negative mental health impacts—including isolation, loneliness, and finding it hard to disconnect from work at the end of the day. The loss of vital networks can also be difficult.
Those who were used to seeing coworkers every day and working on important projects together, having a break together, and having a laugh together, can miss this sense of union. The sense of loneliness is strongest among younger workers (aged 18 to 29).
For Many Employees, Colleagues are Friends
A recent survey by Olivet Nazarene University showed that around 29% of people describe at least one colleague as a best friend. Moreover, many employees were used to discussing important matters such as their love life, health issues, and conflicts with others.
Around 41% of people, meanwhile, spent time with friends outside work a couple of times per month. It is easy to see how missing out on this time together can take its toll on a person’s motivation, satisfaction, and sense of being accompanied by like-minded individuals for much of the working day.
A Fear of Seeking Help for Mental Health Issues
The APA survey also indicated that four out of 10 employees are scared of the consequences they may have to face if they seek help or take time off work for their mental health. This is particularly true among workers aged 18 to 29.
The biggest fear for workers is being fired or treated differently if they seek the help they need. The survey also showed that black and Hispanic workers are more afraid of these consequences than white employees.
How Can Companies Help?
There are many ways that companies can help ease the transition to remote work. One is to make clear that employees will be supported if they need time off to seek professional help.
Another is to embrace online mental health platforms that offer evidence-based support for workers. These platforms can be used whenever a worker has free time—for instance, during their lunch break or when they are experiencing anxiety particularly strongly.
It is important for companies to not simply choose apps that are centered on mental health, but to actually rely on proven digital therapeutics platforms that utilize clinically proven therapeutics. These platforms should additionally be held to the same standard of care as traditional mental health therapeutics.
Reducing Sources of Stress
Companies should also consider offering employees compensation for the costs involved in setting up a small home office. Telecommuting imposes various expenses on workers that were previously covered by their employers. For instance, working from home results in a $40-$50 increase in monthly energy bills. It also forces people living in small homes to get creative with respect to creating a working space.
Many workers living in smaller abodes are using unexpected parts of their homes for this purpose, including closets, free spaces under the staircase, and/or outdoor terraces. Some of these areas may require renovation—for instance, knocking down a wall can help bring in natural light to small indoor spaces (natural light is known to boost productivity and to be important for employees’ eye health).
Additional expenses can include furniture such as desks and chairs, and equipment such as computers and headphones. Many companies (including HubSpot, Webflow, and Basecamp) are offering stipends for remote workers and this can help reduce financial and mental stress for workers.
Embracing Holistic Stress-Busting Techniques
If your company has adopted some of the strategies suggested above, then without a doubt you are in a much better position than those who receive no support. However, it is also important to pursue a healthy state of mind proactively, making time for natural, tried-and-tested stress-reducing methods.
Numerous studies have shown that spending time in nature (even just a few minutes a day) and taking part in holistic practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation, can help battle stress, anxiety, and depression. If possible, take part in group activities, as these will foster your sense of connection and make you feel like part of something larger than yourself.
Remote work is seen as a boon for many but for some workers, it is causing significant stress. Working from home can mean that you don’t see your colleagues as often as you used to, and this can be very hard if you consider them friends. Find out what support your company offers and remember to invest in proactive stress-busting pursuits that can help you weather stress and its effects more effectively.