Remote Work & Mental Health
The young professional’s guide
Remote working has unique challenges that are different from working in an office. Adapting as a young professional can be taxing, so how do you manage it?
2020 was an unprecedented year for most young professionals. At the beginning of the year, many people graduated and found themselves with great opportunities to climb the career ladder. That all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and national lockdowns forced businesses to adopt remote working, turning homes into workplaces.
For Gen Zer's remote working can be worrying. While working from home could sound like a dream at first the reality, for many, turned out to be quite different. Working from home came with unhealthy habits, ended up taking a toll on people’s mental health, and made it harder for many young professionals to progress at work.
For ambitious young workers, this often turns into a double edge sword. They can easily fall into the trap of overworking themselves, leading to poor mental health and a feeling of hitting a career roadblock.
In this guide, we will talk about the importance of looking after your well-being while working remotely. We will focus on Gen Zer's and young professionals and how they can progress their careers despite these new challenges.
The pivot: the corporate world’s response to the global pandemic
As lockdowns became the new normal around the world, companies swiftly adopted remote work.
Before the pandemic, it was estimated that 56% of the U.S. workforce has a job that is compatible, even partially, with remote working but only 3.6% of the employee workforce actually practiced it.
It's now estimated that up to 30% of the workforce will work from home by the end of 2021. The reasons?
Businesses are starting to realize that when people work from home, they're just as effective as when they come in to the office
It lowers operating costs since a smaller office can be used to run the business
More people are starting to overcome the challenges of working from home as they get accustomed to it
Reduced employee commuting means a lower carbon footprint
It opens up more recruitment opportunities across the world
Although there are many benefits for both employees and employers when it comes to remote working, taking care of peoples' mental health need to be a priority.
The unexpected impact of working from home.
What many people weren't prepared for are the psychological effects that came with working from home. This, of course, is no news for many freelancers and employees who worked remotely before, but it has come to light due to the enormous influx of remote workers.
Here are some of the most common problems that remote workers face when it comes to their mental health:
Pressure to work extra hours or hours that they’re not accustomed to
Difficulties unplugging from work due to it being accessible on their computer or laptop
Loneliness due to a lack of colleagues to speak to in person
Isolation due to being stuck at home because of lockdowns
Stress due to a lack of the time management skills required when working from home
Depression caused by a lack of tangible career progress
The last point is particularly important because depression can have far-reaching effects. The symptoms of depression can include bursts of anger, anxiety, agitation, increased cravings for food, or even unexplained physical problems like headaches and back pain. If you notice any of these symptoms when you work from home, then there’s a possibility that remote working has caused you to develop depression.
Thankfully, with the right approach, your mental health doesn’t have to suffer.
Burnout. What it is and how you can avoid it.
It's needless to say, that taking care of your mental health when working from home is important. What fewer people realize is that burnout is a serious medical condition, easily affecting people working from home. As many as 82% of remote working professionals said they experienced some kind of burnout while working from home, 52% of remote employees said they ended up working longer hours compared to when they were working in the office, and another 40% said they felt pressured to perform better and contribute more.
Here are some practical tips for young professionals to better care for their mental health when working from home.
Stick to a schedule. Although 40% of remote workers say that a flexible schedule is one of the biggest benefits of working from home, not sticking to a schedule can be detrimental. Having a predictable schedule is much easier on your mental health and ensures that you only work the hours you’re supposed to.
Schedule regular breaks. It can be easy to forget to take a break because you’re more comfortable in a home environment. Make sure you schedule breaks now and then to ensure that you don’t overwork yourself. Give yourself some time to relax between work sessions.
Create a comfortable work environment. A comfortable work environment will help you stay focused and relaxed. For example, make sure you have a comfortable chair, ensure your desk is organized and has plenty of storage, and make sure your computer or laptop is at a height that is comfortable to use.
Remove distractions. Distractions can prolong your work hours and make it hard to stay focused.
Consider co-working spaces as an option. Some people find that co-working spaces encourage them to be more productive. It’s also a good option if you find it hard to avoid distractions at home, but of course, bear in mind the lockdown situation in your area.
Understand your limits. Working at home is no excuse to push yourself further than you normally would. Make sure you understand your limits and stick to a schedule to avoid overworking yourself.
Unplug from your work–literally. It’s important to unplug yourself from work if you find yourself staying up late to do last-minute things. Try unplugging by turning off your laptop and ignoring any calls or messages to your work phone.
Don’t forget to communicate and engage. Despite feeling isolated at home, it’s a good idea to remember that you can still communicate and engage with people to further your career and be productive. Use messaging programs, video calls, and regular calls to stay in touch with colleagues and communicate effectively with senior managers.
It’s difficult to determine the best course of action to take if working remotely is mentally taxing for you. Everyone has their own problems, so it’s important to identify the issues that concern you the most so that you can deal with them step by step.
Recognizing the signs of burnout; and what employers can do.
It's not only employees' responsibility to look after their mental health. It's also up to leaders to look after their team's mental well-being.
A survey carried out by FlexJobs showed that 40% of people had experienced burnout related to the COVID-19 pandemic. What's more, 37% of employed respondents said they were working longer hours than usual due to complications and unfamiliarity when working from home. As an employer or manager, it’s important that you look out for the well-being of your staff and seek ways to improve their remote working experience. This can help them stay productive healthy to ultimately boost your business.
Make mental well-being a priority. Far too many businesses overlook the importance of mental well-being in the workplace. Unfortunately, this makes it even less likely that companies will pay attention to mental well-being now that employees work from home. Burnout is a real issue that affects many workers worldwide, so it’s important to make mental well-being a priority instead of an afterthought. Be proactive about your approach to mental well-being, and you’ll find that your employees will be happier, more productive, and more likely to continue working with your company.
Establish new channels of communication. Hearing from your employees is important, especially if they’re relatively new to remote working and the flexibility it can offer. Stay in touch by opening new channels of communication such as instant messaging with services like Slack, or check-in weekly by emailing all of your team to give them an update on your projects and expectations. These channels should be used freely by encouraging your staff to come to you with any questions, concerns, or even if they have a lack of direction.
Consider individual needs. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented complication for businesses. As a result, there are likely going to be many unique circumstances that arise. For example, parents may need to spend more time at home tutoring their children and preparing them for exams, or they might need extra help with home responsibilities and commitments. As such, you should always consider the individual needs of your staff and adjust accordingly but within reason.
Taking care of your employees can be difficult, especially during times of uncertainty, but you can minimize its impact on your business by taking care of your team and keeping their mental well-being in mind.
With the right approach, it’s possible to stay positive, productive and still florish in your career. So, whether you’re a young professional taking up their first management role or an employee hungry to climb the career ladder, balancing your well-being with your work responsibilities is the key to staying healthy both physically and mentally.