The past two years have brought many changes, including a shift to remote-first work for many companies. We know it’s cliché to say at this point, but these are unprecedented times, which means no one has a clear-cut guidebook on how to adjust to the new world of work. Amidst all the policies and transitions, it can be easy to forget about an aspect of our lives that should be at the forefront: mental health.
Now more than ever, workers are feeling the weight of work impact their health. A study by PwC Canada shows that mental health issues have been one of Canadian employees’ biggest challenges during the pandemic. The good news: there are strategies out there to help you face this experience, and to ensure you’re effectively balancing your work and well-being. But before we dive in, it’s important to understand how exactly remote work affects our mental health.
The impact of remote work on mental health
Changes in the way we work have brought on a multitude of feelings that can be difficult to sort through. Identifying the ways remote work is affecting you specifically is a crucial step in getting back to being the best version of yourself. We’ve outlined a few common effects below, but it’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive, and everyone is affected differently.
We know you love having your pet as your work from home (WFH) assistant or seeing your coworkers' pets on video calls, but it just isn’t quite the same as the companionship typically formed in a workplace. WFH means you aren’t engaging with your coworkers in the same way or as frequently as you would in-office; there aren’t spontaneous water-cooler conversations or coffee-pot run-ins to be had when you’re working from your own home. Feelings of loneliness are not uncommon for remote-work employees, even with tools like Slack and Google Meet available to bridge some of the gaps.
Most people are guilty of taking a quick peek at work emails and messages after business hours. However, with WFH becoming the norm, the inability to unplug is increasingly affecting workers’ mental health.
We spoke to Shana Prinsloo, our Marketplace partner, Inkblot Therapy’s Senior Clinical Manager, to gain insight into remote-work burnout. She describes what might lead WFH-ers to feel burnout: “When we work from home, it is all too easy to let your work day seep into your home routine. There is no definite end to your day, such that was previously marked by getting in your car and driving home, or jumping on public transport.” She outlines the challenge of truly disconnecting.
“It can be hard to step away from work related tasks or ‘leave them at the office’ so to speak. We start to develop an ‘always on’ mindset. Instead of powering down our computers, we hear emails coming in and often feel obliged to answer them.”
She explains how remote work blurs the line between work and home life: “In-person offices generally give employees a dedicated work environment with clear boundaries between workspace and living space, making it relatively easier to unplug from work. This is something that can be difficult to achieve when we work remotely.”
Common signs of burnout
Shana points out that signs of burnout may overlap with those of depression or anxiety. Some signs of burnout include:
- Increased negativity regarding work or increased cynicism (e.g. being very critical of your own work or that of team members, feeling impatient and irritable, disillusionment about work)
- Feeling overwhelmed by your workload that may have felt manageable in the past, and/or inadequate about your performance in your role
- Feeling exhausted both physically and emotionally. Physical symptoms may occur, such as muscle pain, headaches, stomach aches and even increase blood pressure.
Increased levels of stress
Stress is something we can feel whether we work in-office or from home, but the latter can bring about stress that’s tougher than usual to deal with. Because we’re given the opportunity to work from the comfort of our own space, there may be higher expectations, and pressure to work through things we’d typically take days off for (e.g. minor illness, headaches). Unclear schedules, surprise meetings, and/or lack of structure are also possible contributors that can detriment our mental health even further.
Tips to support mental health while working remotely
If you’re someone that’s feeling the effects of remote work, we’ve got a couple of tips to help you get back on track. Here are our 7 tips to help you support your mental health while you work remotely.
1. Recognize that we’re all human
We’re all human, and we’re all living very different lives. Everyone has things going on, so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or inferior if remote work is taking a toll on your mental health. Once you can make this recognition, it’ll ease the process of communicating how you feel with the rest of your team.
2. Lean on leaders for support
Don’t be afraid to ask for support from leadership. Whether it be your manager, supervisor, an HR leader, or someone else that you can lean on in the company: they can help you navigate through these hardships and get you back on your feet.
3. Communicate how you’re feeling
Be open with those you feel comfortable talking to at work. Communication is a huge part of eliminating feelings like isolation and loneliness in remote work. Sharing how you’re feeling may encourage others to connect with you because they’re feeling the same way, allowing you to support each other as you figure things out.
4. Unplug (for real!)
Get used to actually disconnecting from work after-hours. Balance is the key here; do what you need to do to ensure you can live your life outside of work, even if it means completely uninstalling all work-related apps from your personal phone. Respect your own need for work-life balance!
5. Connect with your colleagues
Working remotely can cause us to forget that we’re part of a bigger team. Check in with your fellow coworkers, set up calls just to catch up, and do what you can to build relationships virtually. Ensure you’re still capturing the nature of being collaborative even without seeing your colleagues every day.
6. Create a schedule
Shana emphasizes the importance of following a schedule while WFH: “Create a schedule and stick to it as you would for in-person work. Get up at the same time every day, get showered and dressed, and move to your dedicated workspace. Schedule breaks… If possible, get up and go for a walk. The change of scenery combined with fresh air can be very rejuvenating.”
7. Book an adventure!
Shana also indicates the importance of changing your remote-work setting. “If you started remote work so that you could travel more and work from different destinations, then get that next adventure booked. Use the money you are saving from not commuting on doing things for yourself that bring you joy.”
Education and support are important steps in taking care of your mental health, so we’ve compiled a short list of our top websites and resources to help you out.
Inkblot is a virtual resource that matches you with certified therapists and coaches based on your needs and preferences. Their online video counseling allows you to support your mental health from the comfort of your home. (For Humi clients: Inkblot is a part of the Humi Marketplace, which means you have access to exclusive pricing!)
A website that provides tools and resources to employers, focusing on mental health. They’ve constructed a short guide to working remotely during the pandemic, with tips for both workers and employers/HR managers.
Peak Wellness offers virtual meditation, yoga, and training sessions to teams looking to incorporate wellness into their remote workplaces. This is a great option for business leaders trying to keep employees’ health top of mind.
A community of peers that provides a virtual support system to those struggling with issues such as mental health, disability, and grief.
Getting started with Humi
For more information on how you and your team can spend less time on time off with Humi, click here.
Learn more with Humi
- A flexible WFH policy is a great way to help your team manage the pandemic. If you’re a business leader looking for guidance on how to form your own remote-work policy, check out our Think With Humi article for a few helpful tips.
- Going back to the office? Learn about coping with in-office anxiety by watching our webinar with registered clinical psychologist at Inkblot Therapy, Dr. Rachel Toledano.