With the Covid-19 “roadmap” announced and restrictions beginning to ease, many people are preparing to go back to the office for the first time in over a year. However, not everyone is heading back to the pre-pandemic 9 to 5. Lots of employers are trialling “hybrid working” schemes, allowing people to work from home for at least part of the week.
New technology makes all this possible. Yet while there are certainly benefits, home-working comes with a number of pitfalls. The intensity of working from your own home – without physical distance or mental separation from your job – can have a serious impact on people’s mental health.
And research suggests remote workers are more likely to bottle up their stress than their office-based peers, with disastrous consequences.
To determine how stressed employees are at the moment, researchers used the , a leading international publisher of psychological assessments to assess study participants. The scale showed that almost three-quarters of those polled are experiencing moderate or high levels of overall stress.
Around one in three respondents said they are very or extremely stressed by work specifically. In addition, people were more likely to say they won’t talk to anyone about their work-related stress when working remotely.
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When we’re in a workspace with other people, it’s easier to get worries off your chest while grabbing a coffee with a coworker. Post-work drinks have become synonymous with venting about bad bosses and heavy workloads to our colleagues, allowing us to let out our fears and frustrations so we don’t take them home.
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Home-working reduces the chances we have to interact in-person with our co-workers, meaning we’re more likely to internalise our stress. Although we can connect on Slack or Zoom, it tends not to have the same impact as talking face-to-face.
“Communicating with colleagues about work-related issues and stress can be challenging even when working together in person. It is even more difficult when working remotely because all communication in this setting requires conscious, extra effort to reach out,” says Kevin Karrington, CEO at Joblist.
“In a , we found that the average length of time that a remote employee goes without speaking to their manager and coworkers is more than five days. As a result, remote work can feel isolating. Especially for non-managers, stress and uncertainty can naturally bottle up during such long gaps in communication.”
This isn’t to say employers shouldn’t encourage home-working, particularly if workers request more flexibility. Remote working can be liberating, allowing people to set their own timetables, exercise during the day and spend more time with their families. Flexible working also allows people with childcare responsibilities – which are often shouldered by women – to stay in the workforce too. Employees it gives them, and appreciate escaping long commutes and avoiding office distractions.
In the last year, however, home-working in combination with social distancing and lockdowns has created additional problems for many people. Not only are people struggling to juggle childcare with work and finding it hard to switch off and relax, workers are also dealing with a lack of feedback and meaningful communication from their employers.
People are dealing with increased hours and larger workloads due to job losses, furlough and illnesses. As a result, some workers are feeling more burned out than before.
Yet despite greater awareness of the impact of stress in the workplace, people are still reticent to speak to their bosses about their mental health. According to the Joblist research, 47% of employees fear negative consequences – such as being denied a raise or promotion – if they talk about their work stress. Women are more likely than men to have this fear.
“To remedy this, employers should check in on their remote workers frequently to gauge their stress levels and overall wellbeing,” says Karrington. “We recommend that managers schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each of their team members. These meetings can provide unstructured time at a predictable interval to check-in and talk about anything that is on the person’s mind.
“When remote employees know they have this open line of communication, they are more likely to feel more connected, less stressed, and ultimately happier and more effective in their roles,” he adds.