The Mental Health Challenges of Working from Home (part 2 of 2)

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In the first part of this two-part post we looked at the evidence for mental wellness suffering among those working from home.

We covered the results from two recent surveys which highlighted a ‘disparity’ between the 84% of those experiencing mental health issues and the 9% of managers who were spending the majority of their time supporting mental health issues.

Notwithstanding the susceptibility of surveys to bias and the fact that we just joined the dots between two totally separate surveys (not to mention the use of the word ‘majority’ in the previous paragraph), it seems fair to suggest there is more that can be done by most, if not all, businesses in supporting the mental wellness needs of their remote workers.

So, what can be done? What’s your instinct? In the days of office cubicles, did you feel a little uncomfortable having your boss wandering around “seeing how things were going”? Were they really there to help or just checking you weren’t booking your next holiday? If you were that boss, how did you navigate that fine line?

Does that paradigm extend to home working? Or does it shift entirely?

D. Sandy Staples of Queen’s School of Business in Ontario explored the impact of trust, work experience and connectivity on performance outcomes in an article published by the Journal of Organizational and End User Computing back in 2001 and titled, “A Study of Remote Workers and Their Differences from Non-Remote Workers”. He noted that, “more frequent communications between the manager and employee was associated with higher levels of interpersonal trust only with the remote workers”.

This suggests that those working from home would welcome a call from their manager where, previously, they may have viewed the office walk-by with suspicion. That call could then be the platform for asking your team member how they are, how they are dealing with working from home and what else can be done to support them?

That ‘call’ is definitely not an e-mail, whether it uses Zoom/Teams/(other video communication platforms are available too) or a telephone call is debatable. It might intuitively feel as if video would be better but consider the following:

  • It’s hard to make eye contact on Zoom. If you look into the camera you probably appear as if you’re listening more, but then you can’t easily see the nuanced facial reactions of the other person. Does that introduce a more difficult dynamic than would occur with a ‘blind’ phone call?
  • Might video now be the preferred method of communicating with friends and family? If video calls are also the de facto norm for work calls, does that further blur the lines between home and work and exacerbate a culture of ‘always on’?
  • A video call increases screen time and potentially musculoskeletal issues.
  • Is the broadband connection more or less reliable than a phone call? Might one or the other increase anxiety and frustration?

It’s not a simple choice and individual preferences will play a role too. Whichever communication channel works best, building trust through more frequent one-to-one communications is a positive step towards helping everyone with their mental wellness.

The converse is the adoption of remote employee monitoring software. This seems to be the ultimate destroyer of trust and a fast track to creating mental health problems. Enough said.

There is lots of guidance on working from home, both the blocking and tackling of setting up a home work environment as well as some of the more advanced psychological techniques required to establish a mental barrier between work and home. All of these are positive steps in terms of alleviating mental health issues.

Isn’t it good to know that simply ‘picking up the phone’ could play such a major role too?

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