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How is work from home affecting our mental health?

There are many articles and studies talking about the impact of the major recent shift in the work style that more people than ever had to embrace. Going from a full time presence in an office, surrounded by teams and joining live meetings weekly to a complete online experience can impact not only productivity, but also our physical and mental health. 

We have already covered the pros and cons of work from home, but this article will provide an in-depth understanding of the consequences it has on our mental wellbeing. As we are probably facing a very different future of work than the one we expected one year ago, with a mix of working from office spaces, remote work and work from home, it is important to know the risks we are exposed to and how to prevent them.

Overall, the pandemic affects our mental wellbeing

A poll by health policy research organization named Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that 53% of American adults have felt a negative impact on their mental health as a consequence of the stress caused by the pandemic, while over half a million more people are expected to experience poor mental health because of coronavirus, according to the Centre for Mental Health from the UK. 

The Office for National Statistics in the UK also revealed, this June, that 7.4 million of the British population reported that loneliness negatively impacted their wellbeing since lockdown.

Moreover, since they started working from home, because of the pandemic, half of the respondents to a TELUS International study said they have taken a “mental health day”.

What has our workplace to do with this?

The way we work plays a significant role in this. We were used to connecting with people and not via online platforms (video calls are also proved to induce fatigue), to travel to and from work, to expressing our feelings and sharing them even through non-verbal communication, to separating work from personal life. 

We used to have a schedule (although a more flexible one might be convenient especially for those who are working in creative industries, i.e.) and to share lunches. All of these and more have gone through a transformation and we don’t have a clear timeline of how things are going to unfold.

A recent study realized by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence uncovered some really interesting stats. As expected, people accused a drop in their productivity level (42%), but what is more concerning is that 78% of the global workforce is facing a dip in their mental health. Furthermore, 25% of them reported they felt depressed, 40% reported sleep deprivation, 35% – poor physical health, 30% are facing obstacles in family relationships, and 25% said they have experienced burnout. 

A State of Remote Work Study showed that 19% of the people working remotely declared they felt lonely (which is extremely harmful for our mental and physical health, even more than obesity), while 41% of remote work employees feel higher levels of stress compared to 25% of those who work in an office (and this was happening in 2017, according to this study ran by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions).

To strengthen the connection between mental health and the place we work from, a research conducted by Nuffield Health (the largest healthcare charity in the UK) showed that 80% of British people feel that working from home has impacted their mental health in a negative way, while 36% of the respondents said that because they are no longer sharing the same working space with their colleagues, being more difficult for them to take a break or step away from their desks.

What is even more interesting is that the aforementioned Oracle study showed that people seek help from technology and not from other people, with 68% of the respondents declaring they would prefer to talk about stress and anxiety to a robot and not to their manager and 80% saying they are open to having a robot as therapist or counselor! This puts such great pressure on technology that it is now required to come with fast solutions to extremely delicate problems.

The need for focusing on mental health even started to influence how people perceive their employers. The above mentioned study by TELUS International revealed that 80% of the respondents might actually be willing to quit their current job for one that is more focused on their employees’ mental wellbeing! 

And that is not surprising at all, given the feelings of loneliness or depression many workers accuse. Consulting firm Eagle Hill showed, in a study, that 45% of the respondents to their survey felt burnout even from April! While 45% of them said that the cause was workload, 35% said that this came from their continuous efforts to establish work-life balance.

And the problem of a work-life balance emerges from other studies as well. Apparently, it is more difficult for people to have the same well structured schedule at home, where it is harder to disconnect (both Microsoft and Business Facilities conducted studies that showed that people are spending more time working). But they do not only spend more time logged in for work, their routine seems to be affected by many other distractions or even by the fact that their children are now studying from home.

On the other hand, although there are many studies revealing the negative impact our home offices have on our mental wellbeing, there are also several that are more focused on the positive impact of remote work. I.e., in a research conducted by FlexJobs, almost 66% of all respondents said they would rather work remotely full-time after the pandemic, with 33% opting for a combination between working from home and from an office. 

And it is not surprising. Working from home or remotely can give you access to new opportunities, save you time and money, and most important, keep you safe during this crisis.

Conclusion

Probably the key, at least for now, is in finding the right balance and adopting a new rhythm, new habits, and new means of separating work from our personal lives. The way we work has a great impact on our overall wellbeing and most studies show that this impact is mostly negative when working only from home.

We will definitely see new types of working scenarios, work from near home being the most probable one, once the number of cases stabilizes. There are many articles that show the popularity of this new concept, not to mention that there are even governments that declared their support.

We wrote about some useful recommendations you could follow in order to not only ensure your wellbeing, but to keep on being productive and happy with your work. Read more on that here.

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Cover photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash