Some weeks have now passed since many of us began working from home. It started off as a novelty before becoming part of our daily routine again, but without the commute and face-to-face interaction with colleagues and management.
Once we got over the initial shock, we have found ways to deal with the logistics of working from home in hastily formed office spaces. We can keep calm and carry on while using technology to stay connected with each other.
Hopefully you are all feeling well with this change in lifestyle. However, now is the time to check on the mental well-being of remote employees. Some are dealing with the uncertainty of returning to their previous employment, while others are beginning to feel the stress, anxiety and depression of isolation. Higher use of mobile devices is responsible for elevated levels of stress, as we feel the need to check our phones constantly, just in case we miss an important email or WhatsApp message. We face all-day everyday contact with our loved ones at home, who may also be finding this transition difficult, or we may be on our own and loneliness has set in.
In 2019, the World Health Organization stated depression and anxiety cost the global economy USD1 tn per annum in lost productivity. It is likely this figure will be much higher this year due to the emotional toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
Employees have a duty of care for their employees’ mental well-being, while colleagues can probably pick up on new emotions and reactions from their co-workers. What we don’t have are visual clues such as dark circles around the eyes, significant weight gain or loss., and lack of engagement. To check whether you or your fellow workmates are feeling the strain of remote working, there are a few warning signs to look out for.
Feeling unable to handle adversity
Few employees are showing high levels of resilience at the moment, and therefore the ability to handle adversity. In order to see how well you are feeling about, and managing, the current pressure, ask yourself a few simple questions:
- Am I still able to concentrate on my tasks or is it becoming difficult?
- Do I still enjoy the same things as before?
- Do I feel hopeful or hopeless about my future?
- Am I enjoying working in isolation, or do I feel cut off from my colleagues and boss?
- How do I feel generally – positive and productive, or angry and irritable with a lack of focus?
- Do I have trouble sleeping, or wake up early worrying about some aspect of my life?
- Am I using an emotional crutch such as food or alcohol?
- Do I have the support of friends and family? Do they need my help?
Ask yourself and others these questions on a regular basis. Check in with one another, ask how you are all doing, keep the lines of communication open.
Workload is reduced and mistakes are being made
A lot of people thrive working on their own. Many find working as and when they want leads to higher productivity, as they don’t face constant interruptions about Karen’s exciting new diet (another one) or Fred showing everyone videos of his dog doing tricks. Rigid work schedules are somewhat relaxed as employees can fit in their duties around grocery runs and baby feeding times.
But some employees do not enjoy this way of working – they need the structure of a working day and the support of their colleagues. The get-up-and-go isolated worker may also start feeling the strain of keeping himself going, as the lure of relaxed sleeping patterns and working at home in his pyjamas starts to tell.
In these situations, employees can start to feel burnt out, which can lead to more mistakes and missed deadlines. There may be a lack of attention during video calls or no interaction during audio calls. You start to forget the minor details, like sending an email to a client or following-up on a task you were assigned. These small things start to accumulate into a larger problem if not addressed early on.
Language turns negative, employees become emotional
Stress can change even the most positive, happy-go-lucky of people. If language used in emails or over the phone starts becoming negative, you may have a problem. When talking about a task, instead of ‘it will be hard but I’ll try and do it’, the response becomes ‘it’s impossible’ or ‘I won’t be able to do it’. Expectations have moved from ‘possible’ and ‘hopefully’ to ‘impossible’ and ‘never’. This black and white train of thought, a cognitive distortion, demonstrates stress, despair and anxiety.
Another cognitive distortion is catastrophising, an exaggerated or irrational thought pattern used by those experiencing psychological factors such as depression and anxiety. Statements to look out for are ‘There’s nothing I can do’, and ‘I have to do this project well otherwise I’ll be fired’.
If you or one of your co-workers is feeling stressed or anxious, speak up sooner rather than later. There may need to be a reduction in workloads or goals to be defined more clearly. Talk to each other, your boss or your loved ones if you feel a decline in mental wellbeing.
Visit Hamad Medical Corporation at hamad.qa for information about HMC Mental Health Services, and go straight to the emergency department if immediate assistance is required.
Take a look at this latest video from Weill-Cornell Medicine–Qatar for advice about coping with anxiety and stress during COVID-19.
Author: Sarah Palmer
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