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How Remote Work Can Impact Employees' Mental Health

Rangam Sep 18, 2023 5:17:16 AM

Remote work became more prevalent after the Covid-19 pandemic, which proved to be a blessing for many employees. For example, the ability to work from home allowed caretakers to fulfill their professional responsibilities while also managing personal obligations. Remote work also did a lot for promoting inclusivity and supporting individuals with disabilities.

I love remote work, and I advocate it as much and as often as I can. But despite all the benefits it offers, there's potential for negative impacts—particularly on employees' mental health. Let's explore the psychological benefits and challenges of remote work and how you can make an informed decision about whether it's right for you and your organization.

The Psychological Benefits Of Remote Work

According to a 2022 study from Owl Labs and Global Workplace Analytics, 62% of employees feel more productive when working remotely, and 52% said they'd trade a slight reduction in pay for the option to work remotely. These numbers show that employees appreciate how working from home allows for a better work-life balance. This may lead to higher job satisfaction and a greater likelihood that they'll stay with the company.

Remote work's accessibility can have a positive impact on mental health, especially for individuals who experience anxiety. The traditional in-office setting can be overwhelming for people with social anxiety because they may feel pressure to conform to cultural social etiquette or body language expectations. However, remote work provides support in this regard because these employees can create an environment that allows them to be both comfortable and productive.

In particular, attending virtual meetings can have significant benefits on employees' mental health and comfort. It levels the playing field by removing barriers related to body language, posture or other differences in how someone engages socially. This helps ensure everyone's contributions are heard and valued equally. For these reasons, remote work is particularly beneficial for neurodivergent individuals because it allows them to comfortably engage in discussions without feeling the need to conform to social norms.

By embracing remote work, organizations can create an environment that supports the mental well-being of their employees. It truly opens doors to a more inclusive, accessible work environment, benefiting both individuals and organizations alike.

The Psychological Challenges Of Remote Work

Of course, remote work can present challenges. For example, the 2023 State of Remote Work report by Buffer, Nomad List and Remote OK reveals that 23% of remote workers struggle with loneliness because they thrive on the energy of others to feel motivated and productive. For others, when home becomes the primary workspace, they can't keep the lines between their personal and professional lives from blurring. In an office setting, people take breaks so they can refresh their minds, but at home, they might use breaks to take care of household chores. In a way, it's like they're always working.

Focus can also be difficult to maintain. In a physical office, employees may have more control over managing disruptions and trusting their coworkers will respect their need to focus. When working from home, however, personal disruptions—like a dog barking during an important call or a child needing immediate attention—can be harder to avoid.

A lack of clear boundaries and constant juggling between work and home life can contribute to mental health challenges. For example, stress levels can increase while focus and productivity decrease. Workers may experience frustration and perceive themselves as being unable to both meet the expectations of their work responsibilities or be fully present in their personal lives. Prolonged struggle in these areas can take a toll on self-esteem, leading to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

Employers' Role In Mental Health

Organizations have an obligation to support their remote workforce. By training managers in empathy and understanding and providing confidential channels for communication, employers can create a culture that supports and values the well-being of their remote workforce. This may ensure employees feel more comfortable discussing their struggles without fear of judgment.

Organizational policies can also play a crucial role in effectively supporting the mental health and well-being of remote workers. They should lay out clear guidelines around expectations for work hours and availability, communication protocols and performance metrics. These policies can help remote workers establish boundaries between work and personal life and reduce the risk of burnout.

Clear communication of mental health benefits is crucial for ensuring employees are aware of and can utilize resources effectively. Employers should provide a comprehensive outline of mental health benefits, like employee assistance programs, counseling services and coverage under health insurance plans. Materials should include how employees can access these resources and any associated costs or coverage details. Regular training sessions and workshops can also help educate employees about mental health, available resources and how to seek support. Internal communication channels and anonymous feedback mechanisms can further enhance the visibility and understanding of mental health benefits. With consistent focus on these resources, employers can prioritize mental well-being and encourage employees to prioritize self-care.

The Future

The world of work changed irrevocably because of the pandemic. According to Upwork’s 2020 Future Workforce Pulse Report, the number of Americans working remotely is expected to reach 36.2 million by 2025. That would be an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels. Thus, employers and remote workers must work together to overcome any challenges and ensure the arrangement is sustainable in the long run. By prioritizing communication, collaboration and mental health, organizations can help ensure their remote workers can be successful in their jobs and achieve a better work-life balance.

Hetal Parikh is the President and Co-founder of Rangam, a holistic workforce solutions firm with niche expertise in DE&I. Read Hetal Parikh's full executive profile here.


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