The world is slowly starting to normalize once again, with COVID-19 gradually disappearing from our lives. Vaccination shots are being distributed, and cases are beginning to reduce over time. Of course, the impact that this virus has had will remain with us for years to come, whether it be in the business world or our personal lives. Plenty of people have gone through hardships over the years that have left them exhausted in more ways than one.
Throughout 2020, remote working became increasingly popular, with most organizations allowing their employees to work from home. Some businesses are starting to open up their offices again, but others are allowing their employees to remain remotely or hybrid. That said, this massive shift to remote working caused a lot of fascinating data to appear in front of us.
Remote work has managed to impact people's lives in several ways, either for the best or the worst. Those who are introverted and prefer to stay away from office politics welcome the chance of working from home. On the other hand, the ones who thrived on constant communication with their fellow employees were impacted by the lack of communication, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Remote work has several ways that can impact our mental health, and business leaders must be aware of these effects.
For this post, let’s go over how remote work can impact the mental health of your remote employees.
The issue of stress
Recent studies have shown that as many as 3 out of 4 workers in the U.S have experienced feelings of stress during COVID-19. The research goes on to show that before the pandemic hit, it was discovered that remote workers tend to feel far more stressed out compared to their onsite counterparts. Stress can introduce several symptoms. Here are some of the signs that may indicate that an employees stress levels have reached an all-time high:
- Feelings of uncertainty or nervousness
- Feeling depressed or sadness
- Feeling if anger or irritability
- Motivation levels are low
- Difficulty in concentrating on the task at hand
- Sleeping issues
Several other things can be included in workplace stress throughout the pandemic. Plenty of people are having more duties placed on them, both from work and at home. Some people may not have all of the tools they require to finish their tasks while working from home. Furthermore, the change in routing, uncertainty of the coming future, and concerns about personal health all add to a person’s stress level.
At times, a person may only experience stress for a short while, such as when they are in a new unfamiliar or dangerous situation. That is known as acute stress and commonly occurs in everyone since it's the body's way of keeping you safe. But, when stress levels tend to last far longer than necessary, or chronic stress as it's known, it can cause negative effects on a person's emotional and mental health.
If the person’s mind is feeling foggy or it seems like they are incapable of getting things done as they used to before, there is a good reason behind this problem. Undergoing high levels of chronic stress can lead to a person experiencing memory issues. Stressed-out individuals are also more likely to have trouble focusing and low energy levels. Heightened levels of stress can also lead to more severe mental health issues. Recent studies have shown that a third of telecommuters are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety during the pandemic. That has caused several people to turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the issue.
When stress becomes a constant presence in a person's life, it can lead to them experiencing some severe burnout. Remote workers who become burned to have negative thoughts about their current work. They will feel considerably exhausted and start to distance themselves from their team members and the work. That eventually leads to them barely getting any of the work done.
Burnout is an authentic diagnosis that has increased since the start of the pandemic. Burnout can affect the way a person's brain operates. People who are experiencing burnout are more likely to have a difficult time remembering things and paying attention. However, recent research has discovered that when people feel better about working from home, they are less likely to feel burned out. Finding a way to make remote working more enjoyable is capable of helping your employees handle their mental health better.
Burnout is something that needs to be taken seriously by employees since studies have shown that it’s reached an all-time high. According to a survey conducted by Flexjob and Mental Health America (MHA), 75% of workers are dealing with burnout, with more than 40% citing it as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote working has been a significant contributor to this issue, with remote employees working longer hours and struggling to connect with their fellow employees in a meaningful way.
Employees need to take action and provide sufficient support and wellness resources to ensure their remote employees are taking care of themselves. These wellness programs should help employees remain engaged, motivated, and mentally healthy. Wellness programs are a simple but effective way for organizations to assist their employees during their time of need. It also normalizes the idea of taking care of oneself and lets the employees know that the organization cares about their wellbeing. Managers should also take the time to learn the appropriate signs of these symptoms. If they see employees struggling through a mental issue, they can help address them early on and prevent potential issues down the road.
The beneficial side of remote working
While these are all severe symptoms that are currently impacting the remote workers on a level, not everyone has been negatively impacted from working at home. A good percentage of remote workers have seen improvements in their mental health due to working from home. The flexibility that is provided from working at home has improved has given them more options to take care of themselves and improve their mental health.
Some companies have expressed that as long as employees are getting their work done, the hours they work won’t matter. Asynchronous has become a popular choice amongst organizations, and it has proven advantageous for both employees and employers.
If the remote employee becomes stressed about a particular project they are working on, they can step away and take a lunch break. Or they could go out for some exercise to clear their minds and destress themselves. It also ensures that they remain physically active and healthy, which contributes to the person’s mental health. They can also sit down and play some video games to decompress, watch one of their favorite films, cuddle up with their partner or pets, or merely take a nap. Remote workers can take a bit of extra time for themselves and not worry about the work falling apart because they decide to step away for a few hours.
Some remote employees have a difficult time separating themselves from their work if it's at home, so they need to make an effort to physically distance themselves from the computer and take breaks. Walking away from the desk to eat helps clear a person’s mind. So encourage your employees to take breaks in places where their devices are not near them. They should be encouraged to unplug for a while from work since it will help them tackle the work better once they return and help maintain their mental health.
Improved sleeping patterns
If your employees previously worked in the office space, there is a good chance that they needed to commute to work. That means they had to wake up early and spend more time getting to work and dealing with congested roads. It most likely contributed to their stress levels increasing even before they made it to work.
However, remote working has eliminated all of these troublesome issues. Instead of needing to spend hours stuck in traffic to get to work, they only need to spend a few seconds taking a walk to their home office. Remote work has provided employees with extra free time during the morning. They could either use that early wake up to get their work done earlier. Or they could change their schedule to sleep in longer and finish their task later than usual.
Some people work better during specific hours of the day. For example, if your employees work better during the evening, they could change their schedule to accommodate that. Or maybe they have important appointments to keep up with, such as taking an ill family member to the doctor's appointment. If they didn’t sleep the previous night and require a nap, then they can easily take one, thanks to the flexibility provided by remote work. The flexibility lessens the pressure they would typically have when it comes to their work. They can do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with their productivity.
Mental health has become a growing concern for most organizations, thanks to the impact caused by COVID-19 and the transition to remote work. There are still plenty of bumps in the road that are being run into by most companies. Knowing what to look out for is critical. If a company wants to remain successful, they need to ensure that their remote employees are doing mentally well. Offer them the resources they need to ensure their mental health is taken care of before something even worse can happen to them.