Do remote work arrangements affect mental health?

One in four workers in the United States did at least part of their work at home in 2018, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sometimes, workers seek the option of working remotely to accommodate personal circumstances. Other times, the employer requires it, having decided not to maintain physical office space.

One in four workers in the U.S. did at least part of their work at home in 2018. Without intentionally taking steps to prevent it, the isolation of working virtually can take a toll on mental health. remote work mental health

As we shared in an earlier blog post, arguments can be made both for and against remote work arrangements. One factor that must be examined is its potential effect on mental health.

Clinical psychologist Ryan Hooper points out both positive and negative impacts working from home can have on mental health. “The flexibility and independence can be wonderfully freeing for some people,” he is quoted as saying in an article written by Paige Smith for Huffpost, called “Working from Home Might Take a Toll on Your Mental Health.” However, says Hooper, “For some people, the feedback and encouragement loop of the work environment is critical to their jobs.” That is exactly the type of input that gets missed when you’re not in the same space as coworkers and supervisors.

Without intentionally taking steps to prevent it, the isolation of working virtually can take a toll on mental health.

The 4 types of professional isolation

Forbes contributor Laurel Farrer describes four variations of isolation that often occur when working from home.

  • Social isolation is the most obvious.
  • Resource isolation occurs when virtual staff does not have immediate access to the same resources at hand as those who are physically present in the office.
  • Opportunity isolation means that remote workers are, as the saying goes, out of sight and out of mind when it comes to promotions or new leadership assignments.
  • Development isolation happens because virtual workers, while being considered team members, cannot observe and learn from each other as readily as those who interact daily in the same space.

Given the combination of opportunity and development isolation, some employees are basically given the choice between the benefits of telecommuting or career advancement. This is not a direct mental health issue, but it could contribute to a negative attitude toward work.

Technology can mitigate each of these types of isolation to some extent, but not entirely. If the employer is not willing to make the significant investment in platforms to integrate a distributed workforce, their remote workers will experience the brunt of the isolation.

In our current digital economy, some employers don’t have a brick-and mortar location and require employees to work remotely. If that’s the situation, an employee who may already be experiencing a mental health challenge should be especially vigilant to the potential negative impacts of isolation.

How workers can support their own mental health

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., writing for Psych Central, suggests ways workers can support their mental health if they need to work from home. Many of these helpful tips are also beneficial for workers in more traditional in-the-office roles as well.

Set regular work hours. Even if your work does not require you to work certain hours, setting “office hours” for yourself will help you make the transition from a personal to a professional mindset.

Set realistic goals and map out your day. To achieve the most productivity, have a clear and realistic plan for what you will accomplish in a given workday. Of course, unexpected tasks may come up at times, but your overall aim should be to avoid working on tasks that are not part of that day’s plan. Furthermore, putting too many items on your list for the day (that you know you can’t get done) only sets you up to feel burned out.

Make time for healthy habits. Make sure you get enough sleep. Eat well and get exercise. Take regular breaks to get up and move around during the work day, or get outside and take a short walk. Try to take regular lunch breaks. All of these healthy habits can make your work day more fulfilling and less stressful.

Pinpoint what needs to go well. Think about your most productive work day. Do you spend a lot of time on your mobile phone looking at social media or texting friends? Do you spend time playing computer games or watching videos on YouTube? The answer: probably not.

Brainstorm ways in which you can set up your physical environment to support productivity. Consider putting your mobile phone in another room. Also consider not bookmarking social media and gaming websites on your work computer.

Need to find a better job fit?

Remote work arrangements can work well for some, while others prefer working face-to-face with their teammates and the benefits it brings. If you have tried working from home, and you’re looking for a change, contact our team of recruiters to start exploring new opportunities.

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