2020 was a stressful year, without a doubt!
Organizations and institution leaders have been struggling to review their plans, policies, and regulations to create new guidelines around their fluid work dynamic, involving more remote working and classes, for the foreseeable future. This situation has left employees and students in a flux state, adjusting and adapting to this new dynamic, whilst continuing to work with efficiency and productivity. Finding a balance while juggling work, childcare, virtual schooling, and in some cases, struggling finances due to salary reductions, while staying at home have taken a toll on these working individuals’ mental health. According to the United Nations, this pandemic shed light on the urgency of organizations increasing investments made in time and providing mental health services.
“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning. Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.” – Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO)
A global study conducted by Oracle in over 11 countries shows that 78% of the workforce feel that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.
As leading emotional well-being and health professionals have observed, the major struggle faced by students and employees alike while working the past year remotely has been establishing routines and boundaries which enable them to compartmentalize their personal and professional lives. The lack of these routines and the blurred lines between work and home have negatively impacted mental health, with direct ramifications on their sleep, happiness, and relationships with family members, say 85% of the workforce.
What could the ramifications of working or studying from home, on mental health be? Has this led to detrimental psychological effects? Have people been able to use this as a stepping stone to strike a good balance, which works for them? This article explores the psychological impact this new working dynamic has had on individuals who have been either working or studying from home, for the better part of 2020.
Research studies show that the adverse psychological effects of working or studying from home are loneliness and isolation; anxiety, stress, and pressure along with depression. Individuals find it difficult to recognize the key indicators of burnout, stress, or depression as they push themselves to their physical and emotional zenith, battling between professional and family expectations.
Loneliness and Isolation
Employees and students transitioned to working and studying remotely, having to adapt very quickly. These changes to the working environment can have a significant impact on the well-being of individuals. This transition has led to the inability to partake in face-to-face meetings and class sessions and have limited social interactions with coworkers and fellow students. Not all individuals are accustomed to working and studying for days on end without interacting with anybody else. The socialization with colleagues and batchmates, which starts from a simple chat and vent about work and life could be sorely missed. Unfortunately, this physical disconnect with people is irreplaceable with virtual conversations, leaving people feeling lonely and isolated, leading to negative impacts on their well-being. Studies show that isolation links with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other somatic symptoms.
Anxiety, Stress, and Pressure
Pressures from work to meet performance standards, routine and tedious tasks with unmanageable workloads, in these difficult circumstances, have left employees feeling highly anxious and stressed. This feeling isn’t helped by having to double up and be counselors and educators to their children at home who are confused and struggling to make sense of things while adapting to virtual schooling. Having constant connectivity to work while working from the seat of your own home has led to longer working hours, gradually leading to burnout. Finding it harder to mentally switch off from work has led to the disruption of quality time spent with family members and finding less or no time to spend with oneself.
Research shows that depression and other serious mental illnesses following disasters and other pandemics are exacerbated by loneliness and lack of social support. Moreover, spending long hours in a sedentary lifestyle has also led to excessive back and joint pain in individuals, which further deteriorates their mental well-being. Exercising 20-30-minutes a day has been proved to significantly lower anxiety and boost endorphins and serotonin to the brain. Chronic pain and depression share neural pathways and affect the same part of the brain. Depression increases the intensity of physical pain, causing the brain to create a cycle of pain that becomes learned and chronic.
These adverse psychological effects aside, working from home have also been beneficial to some, who have used this time to spend quality time with family members and learn new skills, which elevates their sense of self and emotional well-being. The Oracle study showed that employees felt that 51% of them could spend more time with their family, 31% getting more sleep, and 30% finding that they were more productive
Improved Emotional Well-being
Employees and students who travel a lot found respite in not only saving on energy but on their finances as well. Working from home enables individuals to get simple benefits like additional hours of sleep, spending more time with their spouses and children, exercising, spending quality time on upskilling and rekindling old hobbies, or just preparing healthy meals. The internet is filled with stories about how individuals have used this time wisely in becoming fit by eating better and finding the time to work out, meditate, etc. during their time at home.
Agility and Flexibility
A major advantage of working remotely is employees’ ability to work hours that suit them, which could be earlier or later in the day, based on their convenience. Women juggling commitments between her professional and personal lives have been banking more on flexible working hours to ensure that they don’t drop the ball on either front. For students, pre-recorded classes can be viewed at their convenience. Online submissions have also made it possible for them to carry on with other interests, be it reading, cooking, watching TV, etc.
The unprecedented switch to working from home may have started with many disadvantages and a negative impact on mental health, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Organizations have begun to take mental health on their agenda and strive towards making a difference, with small efforts. Even before the whole world began moving to a digital and virtual platform, Australia and the USA were a step ahead in enabling people to access mental health services, through digitized services. These services are convenient, secure, affordable, and most importantly, accessible. Paired up with digitized mental health services is hired mental health professionals to whom employees and students can turn to full confidentiality. Regular check-in sessions with them, when they feel overwhelmed can go a long way in intervening before it is too late. The use of psychological assessments can help employers and teachers keep track of their employees’ and students’ mental health to identify issues and take timely action. Some simple things to keep in mind are:
- Strict boundaries and work timings by employers
- Individuals setting routines for themselves
- More informal conversations with coworkers and team members
- Frequent breaks to exercise or have chats with family members
This can go a long way in restoring emotional well-being in unprecedented times.
Shanta Dey, a leading psychologist in Sydney, says, “Being proactive and embedding the right strategies as early as possible will go a long way in surviving, if not thriving, in these uncertain times.”