Working from Home – the Impact on Mental Wellbeing

Mental Wellbeing
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Many employees all over the world have been subject to self-isolation to help to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 crisis. Some have sadly been let go, many have been furloughed, while others have been tasked with working at home.

Those employees who have been lucky enough to take their work home with them have needed to find both new places to work and new ways of working. All around the world, kitchen tables, spare bedrooms, and coffee tables have been turned into makeshift offices. And employees have found themselves needing to find their place in the workforce online.

This article looks at how work-life has changed for the now homeworking employees and how this has potentially impacted their mental wellbeing. #wellbeing #mentalhealth Click To Tweet

For many, this isn’t a regular occurrence. Even for those employees who might be occasional homeworkers. Where work-from-home days were available for certain circumstances such as medical appointments or staying home to take in an important delivery.

Thanks to the experiences of Claire, a project manager and “end user,” this article looks at how work-life has changed for the now homeworking employees and how this has potentially impacted their mental wellbeing.

Claire’s personal view of the move to homeworking

You might find Claire’s experiences of the early days of homeworking, and the associated barriers to work, familiar:

“Working from home during the pandemic is different from the “work from home” days I’ve had in the past. The day goes quicker, the art of ignorance with those you live with becomes well practiced as you look to zone out the conversations being held in the next room in a bid to remain focused on the call or task at hand.

You find that new obstacles appear in your working day as you look to match up diaries so you can get the information you need from someone else. Changing your work area, in order to avoid some background noise on your next call, can be more disruptive than useful. You learn that having a structure and routine to your day is important to keep yourself focused. And, before you know it, it’s 5 p.m. and the meetings that have filled your day have left behind a slew of work that you still need to power through to end your day.

Longer days seem inevitable, especially with the additional challenges.”

Claire’s initial move to homeworking

Claire found that homeworking required a different way of working, especially in terms of communication and collaboration:

“When it was first announced that we’d be working from home for the foreseeable future, my work calendar filled up within a day with new regular meetings, huddles, catch up calls, and stand-ups to help to organize our days. My lunch hour reduced as I rushed to squeeze in something to eat between meetings. I had colleagues asking for additional calls and lots of messages being sent around as a way of staying connected to one another outside of our normal face-to-face interactions in the office.

However, people were also finding new ways to have fun. For example, some teams created their own wind-down Friday video call. However, while it was great to see my colleagues’ faces, trying to hold a conversation in a group of over ten people ready and waiting to chime in proved overwhelming for most and for the bandwidth on my home Wi-Fi too.”

Homeworking wasn’t Claire’s only COVID-19 crisis challenge

When thinking about your mental wellbeing, as Claire articulates below, it’s important to appreciate that the impact of the crisis extends further than your work location. You might have needed to do more too:

“In my organization, we had managers and directors who needed to ensure that the business was ready and prepared for potential lockdowns. The world was shutting down around us, country by country. Because of this, my workload increased tremendously. Not because I was personally dealing with the COVID-19 activities but because someone has to do the work of the line manager who’s now sidelined with the crisis management. With mine not only looking at the necessary employee and trading issues but also tasked with innovating new ways of delivering services to keep up with the changing economy.

So, it’s likely that employees everywhere are not only potentially now working from home but also doing more than has been expected of them in the past. It doesn’t matter where you work in an organization, you’re now probably expected to pull more than your weight.”

Many #ITSM blogs have talked to the need to focus on the technology essentials for homeworkers, but what about how we’re feeling? #mentalhealth #wellbeing Click To Tweet

The impact of all this on our mental wellbeing

Many IT service management (ITSM) blogs and articles have talked to the need to focus on the technology essentials for homeworkers, such as dealing with connectivity issues as a priority and ensuring that collaboration services such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams are available. But what about how we’re feeling?

So much has changed for employees that we need to be worried about, and address, the potential for mental wellbeing issues. Just consider the many factors that are in play here:

  • Concerns re the virus itself and our personal health
  • The health of family and friends, particularly those that haven’t been seen for so long because of isolation requirements
  • The new working environment and lack of local colleague support (whether technical or simply conversations about the weather)
  • The fact that there’s more work – due to supporting homeworking peers, and potentially absent colleagues
  • Work might be more challenging and potentially a scary prospect as employees take on the responsibilities and workloads of others.

How can all this not be an unwanted recipe for either employee burnout or potential mental wellbeing issues?

What should you do?

The key thing is to be open to the possibility. Whether for yourself, your peers, or the people that work for you. To be able to “spot the signs.” And, if you’re in a leadership position, to implement policies and practices that help with both the prevention and handling of wellbeing issues.

If you’re not in such a position, then ask the right questions to the right people within your organization. Our wellbeing in IT survey in latter half of 2019 highlighted that there was already an issue, with wellbeing, before the COVID-19 crisis. Finding that:

  • 71% of survey respondents state that working in IT has adversely affected their wellbeing to some extent. 21% considerably – which sounds worse when stated as one in every five people.
  • 43% of survey respondents feel that their immediate manager is not suitably skilled to identify and deal with employee wellbeing issues. Another 32% think that they’re only partially skilled. Which is three-quarters of immediate managers.
  • 37% of survey respondents feel that their employer doesn’t have suitable mechanisms for preventing and helping with employee wellbeing issues. Another 34% that they need improving. Which is again close to three-quarters of companies.

In terms of seeking much-needed wellbeing-related information, guidance, and advice, we’ve had various people create the following helpful content:

Please dip into these articles as you see fit. For example, the first in the list highlights some of the signs of mental wellbeing issues:

  • “I’d wake up at 5am every day and immediately start thinking about work
  • I couldn’t get to sleep at night
  • I couldn’t think straight, in fact I just couldn’t think
  • I’d get angry over the silliest of things
  • I’d argue with myself inside my head.”

You can get more detail on each of these from the Mental Health and Wellbeing in IT – a Personal Account article along with some of the practices that can be used to help. We’re also running a new post-COVID-19-crisis Wellbeing in IT survey – it’s the old survey with three COVID-19 questions. Please help us to help our readers by taking 1-2 minutes to respond to its eight questions (it’s both anonymous and multiple choice).

Whatever you do, please don’t think “It will never happen to me/us/them.” Mental wellbeing issues can happen to anyone, as the above survey data shows. So, when you’re protecting yourself and those you love going forward, remember there’s more than the virus to consider.

Marketing Manager at Socommunity

Sophie is a freelance ITSM marketing consultant, helping ITSM solution vendors to develop and implement effective marketing strategies.

She covers both traditional areas of marketing (such as advertising, trade shows, and events) and digital marketing (such as video, social media, and email marketing). She is also a trained editor.

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