For some, the impact is positive—but for others, it really isn’t.
Over the past few months, there’s been a whole lot of talk about the success of working from home (WFH).
Our “Should we Ditch the Office” Survey revealed that 70% of respondents have had, on the whole, a positive experience of working from home. Those surveyed said that the lack of commute, financial savings, and spending more time with loved ones were the top reasons for enjoying the experience.
But it hasn’t all been rosy. In fact, 1 in 5 respondents named a negative impact on their mental health as one of the main reasons why they’ve disliked working from home.
Lack of social interaction was also identified as one of the less enjoyable elements of remote working by a significant 75% of respondents. One respondent commented, “Having interaction with my team is better for my morale and mental health. It can be isolating to not have that human interaction.”
A further 34% stated that the lack of physical workspace was taking its toll on work-life balance, and 24% found their home rife with distractions.
Feeling isolated, distracted and struggling to create boundaries can quickly become problematic and have a negative effect on employees’ mental health.
However, as many will agree, spending less time commuting and more time with loved ones can often actually improve mental wellbeing. And many claim to be more productive and less stressed away from the distractions in the office.
As such, it’s important to note that 1 in 10 respondents actually said that a positive impact on their mental health was one of the 3 best things about working from home.
Below, we use the findings from our survey to discuss how the switch to working from home is affecting employees’ mental wellbeing (in good ways and bad), and what this tells us about the diversity of employee preferences. We also explore how employers can create a safe company culture to support their employees’ mental health.
The impact of working from home on mental health
In our survey, 10.7% of respondents cited improved mental health as one of the top 3 things they liked about working from home.
One respondent commented, “I want to work remotely all the time. I am healthier and happier and honestly, I do my job better.”
But at the other end of the scale, a higher proportion of respondents (20.7%) named a negative impact on their mental health as one of the top 3 reasons why they’ve disliked WFH.
This difference in responses reflects the general findings in our survey, in that every employee’s experience of home working is different. Some thrive in their home environment—whilst for others, it can have a devastating impact on their mental health.
What’s key to remember here is that neither’s experience is more valid than the other—and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Understanding that many have experienced negative mental health at this time should definitely spark empathy and action—but it doesn’t mean that forcing everyone back to the office 5 days a week is the solution. As an employer, it’s important to understand and recognise all of your employees’ needs, be accommodating to different circumstances where necessary.
To get a more detailed picture of remote-working mental health, we gathered demographic data on our respondents.
Men and women are similarly affected
We discovered that both men’s and women’s mental health seem to be similarly affected, with 20.71% of men and 20.58% of women stating that working from home has had a negative impact.
Meanwhile, 9.91% of men said that improved mental health had been one of the top 3 things about home working, compared to 11.28% of women.
A higher proportion of people living alone said working from home has a negative impact on their mental health
We also segmented the data to find out how those who live alone have found working from home—and found that a slightly higher proportion (25.84%) said their mental health was negatively impacted by the experience, compared to 20.17% of those who live with others.
This is unsurprising, with social isolation and loneliness playing such a big part in poor mental health. And in these unprecedented circumstances, living alone whilst also not being able to see others is likely to exacerbate the issue.
A higher proportion of younger employees reported a change in their mental health
When it came to the different age groups, we found that 22.96% of <26 year olds and 20.65% of 26-30 year olds felt that a poorer mental health was one of the worst things about working from home.
Whereas, on the other end of the spectrum, only 13.95% of 51-60 year olds said WFH had a negative impact on their mental health, and 18.52% of 41-50 year olds. Interestingly though, 22% of 60+ year olds cited the negative impact on mental health as one of the worst 3 things about working from home.
Two-thirds of those who had an overall negative experience of WFH rated the impact on mental health as one of its worst elements
We also found that two-thirds of those who said they’d had an overall negative experience of WFH had identified a negative impact on their mental health as one of the 3 worst things about working from home.
This really emphasises the significance that employees’ mental wellbeing plays in their overall experience.
Reasons why some employees have benefited more than others
Employees’ home lives vary considerably. As we can see from the demographic breakdown, factors like living alone often correlate with a negative WFH experience. Other factors like the added stress of working from home with children can cause higher levels of stress and seriously impact working parents’ mental health.
In a survey by the Office of National Statistics, where 12,000 parents were surveyed about their experience homeschooling, 34% of mothers and 20% of fathers stated their wellbeing was negatively affected.
In our survey, 34% of respondents stated that working from home was taking its toll on work-life balance. These results are mirrored in a survey by Nuffield Health, which revealed almost a third of Brits working from home (30%) have been finding it difficult to separate their home lives from their work lives, with over a quarter (27%) reporting difficulties switching off at the end of the day or working week. Having no clear boundaries can affect mental health, because there’s no time to rest.
People might also be less likely to take holiday. One of the effects of Covid has been the impact on everyone’s ability to travel, and many people have seen their holiday plans cancelled or postponed. Consequently, many employees are not using their annual leave, which is causing burnout.
Research by Assael Architecture also revealed how employees’ home environments impacted their wellbeing during lockdown. The study revealed that just 24% of those surveyed were working in a dedicated home office, while a further quarter said their workspaces were ‘not appropriate’, citing lack of space and natural light as the main issues with their surroundings.
So, how can companies support their employees’ mental wellbeing?
Every employee’s experience is different, so perhaps the best thing you can do as an employer is to be flexible and understanding during these difficult times.
Staying open to flexible working policies will likely benefit those who have enjoyed working from home, and having the option to go into an office and meet with teams in person could help those who feel isolated and disconnected.
For those team members who are struggling with their mental health in the current setup, there are many things that you can do to help them. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling…
Offer employees professional support
As an employer, one of the most powerful things you can do to support your employees’ mental wellbeing is help them access professional therapy. One company that makes this super easy is Spill.
Spill lets employees book video sessions with qualified therapists through Slack, allowing people to get support before problems become work-affecting. Over a course of six sessions, Spill therapy reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety by 40% and 54% respectively, making it more effective than NHS therapy or antidepressants.
Lead by example from the top down
When senior members and managers support and take part in wellness initiatives, employees feel more supported and tend to follow suit.
Empower your managers and leaders to share their experiences, take mental health sick days if they need them, and provide them with mental health training so that they too feel supported.
Make a Mental Health Pledge
And speaking of leading by example, a great way to do so is by making a mental health pledge.
Every plan to promote wellbeing and tackle mental health problems can be bolstered by having a public facing commitment that employees can buy in to, and for which organisations can hold themselves accountable.
The pledge is a commitment to creating a mental health-friendly company culture. As well as making the pledge, you’ll need to develop a practical framework to create an open environment in which mental health is supported.
Inefficient communication can leave employees feeling anxious, isolated and relying on assumptions to make decisions.
So when working remotely, it’s even more important than usual to have frequent check-ins with your team. Daily stand-ups and retro sessions can help maintain a high level of communication and transparency.
And try to prioritise asynchronous communication. Simply put, asynchronous communication is when you send a message without expecting an immediate response. This can reduce the pressure on employees to always be ‘switched on’, which in turn can improve people’s work-life balance.
Acknowledge that mental health is just as important as physical health
Communicate with your team that mental health is as important as physical health, and make sure that employees know to take time if they’re not feeling well mentally.
Managers, it’s really important to lead by example in this case, as the main reason employees feel uncomfortable taking mental health sick days is due to the stigma still attached to mental health.
Keep up social interaction
Lack of social interaction was identified as one of the worst things about working from home by a significant 75% of our SWDTO respondents.
We humans are sociable creatures, so dedicating time to simply chat with your colleagues goes a long way. You could schedule virtual team lunches, happy hours and coffee breaks with your team via Zoom or Skype.
Slack integrations like Lunch Train and Donut are perfect ways to achieve this, as they’re easily adaptable to video calls. So pair up, grab a coffee and take part in a digital Donut or jump aboard a Lunch Train.
At HubbleHQ, we do weekly fika, a Swedish tradition that gets the entire company together for cakes, coffee and conversation. We didn’t want this tradition to end, so we’ve now taken it to Zoom. We also have twice-weekly morning coffees, in a bid to replicate those casual “water cooler catchups”, and also do a weekly quiz, hosted by a different team member each time.
Find more virtual activities to keep your team sociable here.
Improve your employees’ home environment
An easy way to assess whether your employees’ setup is suitable for working from home is to run a DSE Assessment and a home working risk assessment. You can then carry out the necessary upgrades to your employees’ homes to improve their setup.
We can make this whole process simple via the HubbleHQ Home Working Assessment.
Find out how your employees want to work
Clearly, preferences around remote working vary dramatically from person to person. While working from home can improve one employee’s mental health, it can be destructive for another’s.
So, if you’re looking to identify the best workplace strategy for your company, it’s crucial to listen to your employees. And take into account their pain points and suggested helpful actions.
To help you find the insights you need quickly and easily, we’ve created a free-to-use Workplace Strategy Tool—designed to help you find out how your own employees want to work.
With the tool, you can survey your own team using our curated questionnaire, access the data immediately via your own personalised results dashboard, and get free, professional advice on the best workplace solutions from our team of experts. Check it out below: