Mental Health in the Workplace — or the Home Office

With one in four people in the UK having a mental health problem at some point, it’s more important than ever to think about life in the workplace, or ‘home’ workplace, and how it impacts mental health. While mental health is a topic that gets brought up every so often, the past year working from home has brought in a totally different dimension, and even greater risk of mental health deterioration from some.

The major shift away from the typical 9-5 in an office to working from home is really what we want to focus on here. Even with restrictions easing and people having the option to head back into an office for work, it has become abundantly clear that a significant number of companies and individuals will continue working remotely, and the bustling rush hour traffic and water-cooler chats may become increasingly obsolete. But is this a good thing for our mental health?

The Pros and Cons

Who doesn’t love the idea of not needing to wake up when the rooster crows, sit in traffic for seemingly forever, sit in an uncomfortable and squeaky chair for hours, eat a boring and slightly soggy sandwich, and then get home just in time to get a good night's sleep before doing it all again?

Yeah, us too.

So, we were more than happy to make the change to remote working when Covid kind of forced our hand, and 45% of people surveyed by the RSPH also agreed it had a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing. We loved waking up some days with a fresh cup of coffee, staying in our pyjamas all day if we wanted to, and enjoying our home comforts while working. But it’s not all sunshine and roses, as in the same RSPH survey, 67% felt less connected to colleagues, 46% exercised less, 39% found they were developing musculoskeletal problems, and 37% reported having disturbed sleep.

The feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression developed by many people over the past year stemming from an inability to have real contact with colleagues, and not being able to supplement this with normal social activities like dining out, going to the gym, and tipping a beer at your local after a stressful day certainly puts a strain on everyone. And having your home become an office makes it tough to switch off, so the stress of work is with you all the time. But even with these downsides, several studies found that the vast majority of people wanted to continue working from home in a split capacity, hopefully giving them the best of both worlds.

A Good Balance

We’re firm believers at DragonflAI that the health of our staff comes first, no matter what, and we want to make sure that everyone can enjoy a good work-life balance that ensures positive mental and physical health. So instead of reiterating what a number of studies have to say about the importance of looking out for employees, we wanted to have a more casual post about what we found really helped maintain some normality over the past year, and ways we tried to stay connected and healthy through the lockdown and beyond as we stick with a mixture of remote and in office working.

Take a break, OUT of the house. One of our employees found his typical walk to work took about 45 minutes each way, and without that hour and a half of commuting each day he has way more personal time. Spreading this out through the day included going for a run over lunch, starting work a bit late but finishing later, and just overall being a bit more flexible when he was online. This was a great idea and definitely helped to not feel trapped inside the house with work all the time. This may not work for everyone who may prefer just to put their heads down at work, then totally check out at the end of the day, so make sure you find the working schedule that's best for you, and let your boss know so they can help you manage this balance.

Exercise. Getting fresh air and the blood pumping have been proven over and over again to help reduce some mental health issues, but we’re thinking more about physical health here. Being stuck at home may mean it’s tougher to get to the gym (or the gym may have been closed for a year) as many people would work out on their way home or to help them get up in the mornings. Even a simple walk can help with the musculoskeletal problems so many people developed this past year, and we actually enjoyed walking meetings to combine work and exercise.

Relaxed Video Calls. Over the year we craved social interaction, and missed the ‘water-cooler’ conversations and shooting the proverbial sh#& with co-workers over a coffee. So we started both a work-free chat conversation on our work messaging service, and a weekly catch up just to see some friendly faces and hear how the week has been. For me personally this has been one of the most important things this past year to keep me sane, and I always found myself looking forward to even the short catch-ups we planned.

Anything you can do to make sure you stay healthy at the office or working from home is important. So employers: take the time to think about the mental health of your employees especially when you can’t see them everyday, and be open to a more flexible schedule. Employees: tell your boss what you need. The stigma against being open about mental health is a major reason simple stress develops into something far worse, and you should never feel embarrassed to ask for the help you need.

#breakthestigma, and find the right work-life balance for you, at home or in the office.

Citations:

https://www.rsph.org.uk/about-us/news/survey-reveals-the-mental-and-physical-health-impacts-of-home-working-during-covid-19.html#:~:text=Home%20working%20is%20having%20an,34%25)%20from%20their%20employer.

Founder of DragonflAI — On-Device Nudity Moderation. My mission is protect children by reducing the volume of child abuse online. www.dragonflai.co