By Mia Barnes
The traditional workplace has undergone significant changes in the past few years. The onset of the pandemic and the subsequent easing of restrictions has put things in constant flux, with employees shifting from office to remote work and back again. This has had a major impact on employees’ mental health. According to Gallup, employee stress levels are at a record high, with 44% of respondents in agreement: They are stressed.
As organizations make further decisions about the structure of their workplaces (in-office, hybrid, and remote), they should consider how remote work can affect employees’ mental well-being.
Benefits to Mental Health
Working from home offers employees flexibility, better work-life balance, and lower stress levels. Some of the most significant benefits remote work provides are time and the ability to be present for the family. Former commuting time can be spent either resting or spending time with loved ones. In case of minor home emergencies, people can hire a technician and still work while the issue is fixed. Thus, remote work can lessen stress and mental exhaustion.
Challenges to Mental Health
On the other hand, remote work can also introduce new issues to employees that can cause them significant stress. Remote work can blur the lines between work and normal life, with workers feeling increasingly lonely and isolated and working more hours. Additionally, the lack of co-worker interaction can be a source of stress for extroverts.
Employees can also feel overwhelmed as personal and workplace issues mix. For instance, a toddler could have a tantrum during an important online meeting, which can double someone’s stress.
Studies show that remote workers experience worsened mental health, including heightened symptoms of anxiety and depression. Other reports found the opposite, with people claiming their mental health flourished while working from home. These results highlight how varied employees are and how each person can react to the same situation differently.
Company Culture and Remote Work
HR leaders agree that company culture is a significant factor in whether employees thrive in a remote environment. “If an organization’s culture is based upon trust, open communication, empowerment, and collaboration, remote work and the impact on employees’ mental health will be positive,” says Lisa Shuster, chief people officer for iHire.
Conversely, ineffective leadership and bad company culture can make remote work stressful for employees. Reducing pay or enforcing rigid guidelines around remote work can cause distrust. “If leadership and the company at large act like they are doing employees a favor or feel the need to take things away (trust, pay, perks, etc.) in exchange for allowing remote work, it will fail for the employees and the company,” she explains.
Transitioning From Home to Office
More companies are transitioning back to office work. And with 64% of employees preferring to work in a remote or hybrid setup, with some ready to quit if they are required to return to the office, employers must take into consideration how changes will impact workers mental health.
Steven Mostyn, CHRO of Management.org, says that the company has taken steps to inspire workers to return to the office. It’s added a relaxation room and resident masseuse so employees feel less stressed about the change in workforce approach.
“We believe that by improving our office and making it more relaxing, we can encourage our workers to return to the office. This has proven to be correct, as many of our workers have requested to work full-time in our office already,” Mostyn says.
Of course, mental health support doesn’t stop there: Organizations need to create various solutions to keep employees emotionally and mentally healthy. Support can be provided by diversifying mental health benefits and offering flexible workplace policies.
Mia Barnes is editor-in-chief at Body+Mind.