The impact of remote work on mental health and loneliness
The impact of remote work on employee mental health is real, especially for those with parenting responsibilities during the day.| Photo Credit: ©Vadim Pastuh / Adobe Stock
What can employers do about the impact of remote work on employee mental health and loneliness?
For companies, taking on remote workers has clear benefits. Companies have the freedom to source talent from any location rather than being restricted to local talent. It also enables companies to save money on office space by not having to provide as much space for desks.
Working remotely also has clear benefits for employees. Not having to commute to work can save employees time and money, and potentially allow more time to be spent with family and friends. Some studies have also found that remote employees are generally more productive - possibly due to fewer distractions from colleagues. And there are also reports that remote employees are generally 22% happier.
While remote flexible work clearly offers numerous benefits, it is vital to acknowledge its potential negative impact on mental health and combat feelings of loneliness among employees.
Isolation and loneliness
Remote work can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, particularly for individuals who thrive in social environments. The absence of face-to-face interactions with colleagues and the camaraderie of the office can leave remote workers feeling disconnected from their team and the company as a whole. Loneliness takes a toll on mental health, leading to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and even depression, impacting job performance and overall well-being.
The boundaries between work and personal life may become blurred when working remotely. With no clear separation between workspaces and living spaces, it can be challenging for remote workers to mentally switch off from work. This constant availability may lead to overworking and burnout, further affecting mental health and relaxation time.
Reduced support systems
In a traditional office setting, employees have immediate access to a support system of colleagues and managers, facilitating guidance, sharing concerns, and engaging in casual conversations. Remote workers may find it more challenging to connect with coworkers, especially if communication primarily occurs via digital platforms. The lack of immediate social support can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and hinder opportunities to address work-related issues or personal challenges.
Tech overload and digital fatigue
Reliance on technology for communication and collaboration in remote work can lead to digital fatigue. Constant virtual meetings, emails, and messaging may result in a sense of detachment from reality and increased stress levels. Additionally, prolonged screen time can cause physical discomfort, such as eye strain and headaches, contributing to overall mental strain.
Remote work offers flexibility, but it can also lead to work-life imbalance. Without a clear separation between work and personal life, remote employees may find it difficult to disengage from work, leading to longer work hours and difficulties in establishing boundaries. Over time, this imbalance can affect mental health and strain personal relationships.
Addressing mental health challenges in remote work
To foster a healthier remote work environment that addresses loneliness and supports mental well-being, both employees and employers can take proactive steps:
Encourage open communication
Employers should foster a culture of open communication, encouraging remote workers to express their feelings, concerns, and challenges. Regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings provide a platform for employees to discuss their mental well-being and seek support when needed.
Promote virtual team-building and accountability
"Remote work is associated with ambiguity around role and feedback, which could potentially increase emotional exhaustion."
Establish clear work-life boundaries
Employees must set clear boundaries between work and personal life. Designating a specific workspace and adhering to regular work hours can prevent overworking and allow for sufficient downtime and relaxation.
Encourage mental health days
Employers should emphasize the importance of mental health by encouraging employees to take mental health days when needed. These days off provide opportunities for individuals to recharge and address any emotional or mental challenges they may be facing.
Offer mental health support
Providing access to mental health resources, such as counselling services or Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), demonstrates employers' commitment to supporting employees' mental well-being.
In addition to providing access to mental health resources, an important part of supporting good mental health in the workplace is making it part of the conversations that employees have with each other and their managers. By normalising chats about depression, anxiety and even substance abuse, employers will be able to better support individuals.
By acknowledging the potential challenges of remote work and actively implementing strategies to combat loneliness and address mental health, individuals and organizations can create a thriving remote work environment that nurtures employee well-being and enhances productivity. Embracing these proactive measures ensures that remote work remains a positive and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Brendan McDonald, the author of "The impact of remote work on mental health and loneliness," is a former humanitarian aid worker who holds a Bachelor of Professional Studies and a Master of Social Science. In early 2014, after dedicating a year to the Syria Crisis, he experienced burn-out and was subsequently diagnosed with clinical depression. Brendan also faces several medical conditions, including chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), peripheral neuropathy, and bicuspid aortic valve disease (BAVD)