Microsoft CEO warns of Mental Health damage from permanent “work from home” arrangements

Working from home has become a new reality for many of us but Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, is not exactly thrilled about indefinite remote working arrangements.

In an interview with the New York Times, the tech leader remarked, “What does burnout look like? What does mental health look like? Hey, maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote.”

A recent survey by mental health provider, Ginger, revealed that nearly 7 in 10 employees found the pandemic to be the most stressful time of their entire professional careers.

“We need a new playbook to manage work at this time”, noted Ariana Huffington during a CNBC virtual conference; the co-founder of Huffington Post recommended that it is critical for remote working employees to proactively boost their mental resilience. 

5 mental health challenges associated with remote working

As the pandemic rages on, working from home would continue to be the standard arrangement for many companies and their employees; here are 5 mental wellness challenges that both employers and employees should be mindful of in this “new normal”.

Social Isolation and Loneliness – Employees who thrive on face-to-face interactions and enjoy the casual pantry banter or going out for lunch with colleagues at work may feel socially isolated while working from home. This may present as a more significant challenge for employees who live alone as they may feel depressed from the lack of social contact.

Domestic Stress – In contrast, employees who live with family or friends may face challenges with domestic stress, which could arise from having to discipline a few rowdy children while struggling to stay focused on a conference call. Increased friction between family members, coupled with general stress from the pandemic, has also led to a rise in domestic abuse cases since the start of remote working. 

Lack of Physical Activity – Underlying the hilarious “before and after” social memes of weight gain during quarantine is a real problem with reduced physical activity, due to working from home and the closure of exercise facilities. In addition to the reduced exercise, the comfort of being at home, including easy access to the refrigerator or snack cabinet is also not going to help with our waistlines and overall health.

Anxiety and Depression – The abrupt change in work environment from an orderly and well-equipped office to a hastily put together makeshift home office can lead to additional stress and anxiety for employees. The change to a remote working setup has also heightened concerns on job security and uncertainty of what lies ahead for the company. 

Poor Sleep Quality – When home becomes office and office becomes home, the concept of work and personal time may become intertwined; some employers may also expect additional work time from employees due to the lost productivity incurred from remote working. Employees may also end up adopting different work schedules, like working late at night or taking more frequent naps in the day. These factors, coupled with the added stress, can have an adverse effect on sleep quality. 

5 self-care strategies to tackle these challenges

As the old adage goes: Prevention is better than cure.

Self-care is the first line of defense in preventing a minor mental health challenge from culminating in a case of clinical depression, which leaves professional help as the only option.

Here are 5 self-care strategies that would be helpful as we adapt to remote working. 

(Source: Pexels)

Stay Connected – It may be challenging to maintain face-to-face social contact during a quarantine but we are blessed with technology that would help us stay connected, virtually, with colleagues, friends and family. In addition to connecting with your usual circle, take the chance to proactively get in touch with friends and family that you have not contacted in a while. Get engaged in some online games or hold a “watch party” to watch a show together remotely. 

Set Time Boundaries – Work-life balance takes on a different meaning when working from home; it is good practice to set boundaries for work and personal time to avoid distractions during work hours and at the same time, not forgetting about the children and family while busy with work.

Start an Exercise routine – Exercise, sunshine and nature are important elements not just for physical health and also for mental wellbeing. With closed or limited access to gyms and exercise facilities, build healthy exercise habits by planning a series of exercises that can be done at home or simply put on walking shoes and take to the nearby park for a relaxing walk in nature.

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Meditate and Detach – The additional stress, anxiety and workload that comes with the remote work package can be tough on our mental wellbeing and a melt down may be on the cards if we fail to handle the “mental gymnastics” effectively. Meditation is an effective way to calm the overactive mind and help us detach from the numerous stressors. Meditation can be done with eyes opened and sessions can be as short as one minute; tools like our MindFi app provides guided breathing and meditation exercises, suitable for busy professionals. 

Digital Detox – On average, we spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on our phones daily and that’s on top of the time we spend on our computers, tablets and TVs. This state of constant connectivity and addiction to our devices contributes to the build up of stress, decreases our productivity and affects our sleep. Working from home inadvertently increases our screen time; it would be beneficial to set aside times of digital detox, at least during meal times, exercise and family time to completely disconnect from the digital world and live in the moment. 

Support your employees’ mental health. Your bottom line depends on it. 

(Source: Pexels)

According to Ginger, 62% of the employees surveyed reported losing at least one hour of productivity a day as a result of the pandemic. That’s a direct hit on the company’s bottom line.

Former Vice President of global benefit for Walmart stores, Sally Welborn, cautioned employers to make mental health support a critical aspect of business continuity planning, or risk a dramatic impact on employee health and productivity.

Other than providing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) and counselling services, companies can consider the following initiatives to support their employees’ mental health. 

Mental Health Education – Workshops and talks are effective in raising awareness and educating employees on various topics in mental wellness, such as: mindfulness, resilience, compassion, teamwork and leadership. Guided mindfulness exercises led by professionals offer first hand experience to participants and equip them with the knowledge to practise in their own time. 

Digital Mental Wellness Solutions – With reduced social contact during the pandemic, digital solutions like mobile apps that empower employees with self-care skills in personal mental wellness could be very helpful. Apps like MindFi are equipped with audio guided mindfulness exercises and wellness tracking functions to help busy professionals engage in self-care while in the office or working from home.

Corporate Mental Wellness Campaign – A company-wide wellness campaign is a great way for employers to send a message to employees that the company cares for their mental health. A mental wellness campaign can run like a “steps challenge” for the mind, where employees are encouraged to form groups and dedicate some time every day to meditate or partake in mindfulness activities. Over time, this helps to build a positive and wellness oriented company culture.

Company “Wellness Champions” – An innovative way to develop a wellness oriented company culture is to identify and empower advocates of mental wellness or “Wellness Champions” within the company. Wellness Champions are employees who are passionate about mental health and practise mindfulness regularly; they can serve as guides to fellow colleagues who may be seeking to learn more about mental wellness or facing mental health challenges. 

Conclusion

The ongoing pandemic and remote working challenges have raised the bar for mental health awareness; it is crucial that companies translate this awareness into a concrete and measurable plan for corporate mental wellness.

For a company to run like a well-oiled machine, you need to have a productive workforce; and the prerequisite to this?

Happy and positive employees.

This is a guest post by Leon Leong. He is the Chief Marketing Officer at MindFi. Leon is a serial Digital Marketing and Internet entrepreneur with experience in Asia and the US. He served as VP Business Development of TO THE NEW Digital, a regional Digital Transformation firm which acquired Techsailor, a boutique marketing technology agency that Leon had co-founded. Prior to Techsailor, Leon co-founded a few Internet startups, including WhoLivesNearYou, a social-location-based community which was privately acquired.

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