When the pandemic began in March 2020, 44% of U.S. employees began working from home full-time. Now, more than a year and a half later, 13% of them are still telecommuting. Many will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
While working from home (WFH) does have some perks, many are beginning to suffer the consequences of full-time remote work. Nearly half of those who telecommute say their mental health has declined, with many reporting sadness and fatigue as common symptoms. These negative psychological effects are causing dips in productivity, energy, motivation and engagement. As a result, employee retention and job satisfaction are declining, and companies’ bottom lines are taking a major hit.
While many factors can contribute to poor performance and well-being, the mental health challenges below are some of the most prominent among remote workers.
Remote workers who live alone or are home by themselves during the day may enjoy having fewer distractions than they otherwise would in an office setting. However, spending day after day in seclusion can eventually lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Often, a lack of organisational support is to blame for this disconnection. The longer employees go without communicating, the easier it will be for them to disengage and feel lonely, depressed and anxious.
One in four adults says they or someone in their household lost their job within the first few months of the coronavirus outbreak. Many of these individuals are still unemployed today and, as the delta variant spreads, they have little hope of returning to work.
Meanwhile, remote workers who managed to keep their jobs are struggling with an employment uncertainty. Will they be part of the next wave of layoffs? The unknown breeds stress, anxiety, depression and other mental conditions that affect their overall well-being. Ironically, this can put them at increased risk of losing their jobs.
Poor work-life balance
A poor work-life balance is one of the most common mental health challenges for remote workers, especially those with flexible schedules. When there’s no set clock-in-or-out time, employees can organise daily tasks however they please. While this adaptability can be advantageous, too much flexibility can leave workers without a routine and blur the line between work and life.
Poor time management skills and a general lack of home office space can exacerbate these issues and leave less time for family and friends. Thus, what was originally meant to be a WFH perk is now a mental health challenge for many remote workers.
Exhaustion and burnout
Mental health and remote work are so inextricably intertwined that a poor work-life balance will eventually lead to exhaustion and burnout. However, even those who do achieve some semblance of a normal routine may still struggle with these conditions when working remotely.
Employees who telecommute must wear multiple hats and perform at a higher level than they would in an office. Remote work requires marketing, IT troubleshooting, customer service, invoicing skills and much more. The stress of taking on extra responsibilities and being under constant supervision can break even the most mentally stable team members.
Managing the mental challenges listed above is difficult enough without having to deal with depression, too. However, all too many remote workers are fighting depressive symptoms due to these and other factors.
Ambiguity about job roles, a lack of career progression and fewer opportunities for feedback created the perfect storm for depression. Unfortunately, very few individuals receive support from colleagues or family members, which only makes matters worse for employees and their companies.
Managing mental health remotely
Remote employees can help themselves and improve their mental health by prioritising self-care, maintaining a routine and striving to achieve a healthy work-life balance. However, management also has an important role to play. They can manage mental health remotely by providing wellness programs, improving internal communication, offering career development opportunities and investing in employee well-being. In doing so, they’ll create a better employee experience, retain top talent and boost their bottom lines.
Ginger Abbot has written for The National Alliance for Mental Illness, HerCampus, Motherly and more. When she’s not freelancing, she works as chief editor for the learning publication Classrooms, where you can read more of her work.