Wellbeing & Health

Working from Home – Impact on Mental Health

4 Mins read

The last two years have certainly been challenging, for many, this has impacted their mental health and wellbeing. It feels the world of work has changed considerably but individuals and organisations are still trying to adapt to these changes. Continued working from home or hybrid working has many positives, but we also need to be aware of the impact it can have on our wellbeing. 

Isolation

During the lockdowns, we saw a huge increase in feelings of isolation and loneliness. The Mental Health Foundation has been leading a study into the impact of the pandemic on mental health, they report an increase to 1 in 4 feeling lonely and isolated. It is unsurprising as humans are social creatures, even those of us who are more introverted still thrive on the right social contact. With WFH, it can be challenging to ensure we still gain regular social interaction via the workplace. 

Zoom Fatigue 

Constant zoom meetings can feel exhausting, they require increased cognitive demands. Our brains are trying to decode the facial expressions via the screen, this increases further with group meetings as our eyes are constantly flicking from one individual to another. Alongside this video meeting require extra energy, almost like being on a stage to gain the same level of understanding and interaction. 

wfh from the bed

Boundaries

Flexibility with continued WFH or hybrid working especially for those with children or caring responsibilities can be a double-edged sword. The late night emails, erosion of downtime, the ability to say no to last minute deadlines, and blurring of work/home boundaries. Our brains and bodies need time to process, relax and recover if we are to avoid the long term impacts of stress. WFH and living in a 24-hour work society is not always conducive to this. 

Physical Exercise 

Without realising it, our commute, if by public transport, included a lot of physical exercise, alongside moving around the office. We may also have been in the habit of going to the gym on the way home or a lunchtime walk. With WFH, we may move from bed to desk, to sofa all within a few meters. As our working habits change we need to change our exercise habits too. 

Distance Bias 

Flexible or hybrid working could impact diversity, equality and inclusion. Employees who opt into a return to the workplace are more likely to be younger men who do not have children/caring responsibilities. It is key organisations ensure they are including employees at home equally, rather than turning to people within the office for new projects or opportunities.

Anxiety 

Anxiety is our brain’s natural response to change and uncertainty, which we have experienced a lot recently. Our brain is just trying to keep us safe, which was useful in prehistoric times when the threat could be a saber-toothed tiger but not so useful when the threat is the internet not working. Without the support of colleagues at a point of stress, our anxiety can increase. WFH we may overthink or worry about issues rather than easily talking them through with someone. 

How can we help? 

All the above can impact our sense of self and wellbeing. Organisations and individuals both have a role to play in mitigating these issues and supporting mental health. Designing new ways of working that allow trust and autonomy, key indicators of positive working relationships whilst ensuring a workload that does not encroach on an individual’s home life.

mental health and anxiety

Organisations 

Acknowledge the challenges openly, engage all in discussing options to support new ways of working, listening to a variety of experiences. There is never a one size fits all when focusing on wellbeing. 

Leaders need to model the right behaviours and set realistic expectations. For example, if hybrid working is an option to encourage better work-life balance, managers can show they value flexibility by opting into it, too. They can also increase psychological safety by sharing times when they have struggled with loneliness or anxiety for example. This breaks down stigma thereby enabling others to open up and gain crucial early support. 

Share wellbeing/mental health information, training, and access to support, ensuring this is a key pillar of your organsiational culture. Alongside supporting managers to embrace a compassionate leadership style, enhancing listening and communication skills which support individuals to feel connected to the organisation. 

Improve social connection for those WFH, both online and face to face if possible. This could include, unstructured coffee chats to more organised mindfulness sessions or team days. Be deliberate about forming relationships equally with those WFH.

Ensure zoom meetings are not back to back and build a 5/10 minute exercise break into longer meetings. This could be all doing a silly dance, jogging on spot, or just getting away from the laptop, make this an organisational norm. 

Individuals

Acknowledge if you are struggling, bring awareness to the issues. If you are feeling isolated or overwhelmed, accepting where you are is the first step. Often the second step is reaching out to talk to someone whether that is a friend, colleague, or professional. 

Boundary your work time. It can be easy to just work into the evening without the commute as a cut off point. Flexibility in working hours is good but be aware of how many hours you are working. Ensure you take a break during the day and if possible get outside and get moving, even for a short walk. 

Proactively engage with your manager and colleagues, you may have to work harder to build and maintain relationships, think about what works for you and communicate that. These contacts form an important part of our wellbeing and sense of belonging. 

Prioritise your self care and self compassion especially through challenging times. Self care isn’t selfish- you cannot pour from an empty cup. 

Self care can include: 

  • Exercise – walking, cycling, yoga 
  • Being in Nature 
  • Spending time with friends
  • Journalling 
  • Creative pursuits
  • Hobbies or learning a new skill 
  • Mindfulness
  • Asking for help 

It will be interesting to see next year the innovative ways companies adapt to the changing workplace, and how they ensure wellbeing is at the heart of these changes 

Value led organisations that listen, communicate and treat everyone as an individual ensuring their mental health is paramount will be the ones that thrive.

Article By Tracy Douthwaite founder of Way to Wellbeing Mental Health & Wellbeing expert 

Further Reading

Behavioral Observation Scale
Competency Mapping & Assessment
Disney HR Policies
Employee Engagement Committee
Internal Mobility Metrics

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About author
Mental Health & Wellbeing expert and the founder of Way to Wellbeing
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