Research Articles

The Psychological Impact of Working from Home

Working from Home and the Impacts Associated with It

The working world has changed drastically. Gone are the days when corporate employees commute to the office Monday through Friday for a 9-5 job, have weekends off, and take two weeks of vacation every year. Spend any time on the highways of metro Boston and you will see that the morning commute begins before sunrise. There are about two hours between 11am and 1pm when the roads are clear, but by 1pm, the highways begin to jam with commuters on their way home. And the roads stay busy until well after 7pm. The hours of the workweek have changed.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was on the rise as technology made it possible for workers to connect from anywhere in the world. The lockdown brought on by the pandemic created even more changes in the workplace. Those who could do so worked from home and were able to keep their income stable and their companies solvent. Once the world began to reopen, it became clear that mentally, the workforce was no longer the same. The combinations of work situations became varied: completely remote, in-person, or hybrid. The business implications of these work situations are complicated and fuel for research in other conversations. Here, we examine the health and wellness of the workforce, concerns, opportunities, and realizations created by the change in the structure of the workweek and the genesis of these processes.

The tail end of the Baby Boomer generation is still the workforce. Generation X is getting old, and Generations Y (Millennials) and Z are moving up the career ladders. These generations all have very different thoughts on work ethic, mental health and well-being, and work-life balance. Baby Boomers tend to be fairly rigid in the workspace. They go to work. They do not call in sick unless they are at least 75% dead. They rarely leave work early, show up late, or take unexpected days off. They were brought up by the Greatest Generation, those who survived World War II, and were brought up to be fine, upstanding citizens who did not discuss emotion and towed the company line. Health and wellness, especially mental health, were not discussed. Especially not at work.

Generation X are in their mid-forties to late fifties. Brought up by Boomers, GenXers were seen and not heard, did not cry because otherwise they would be given something to cry about, they drank water from the garden hose, were angry and a little wild because they had feelings that they did not know what to do with. As GenXers have aged, they have changed the way we see the aging process. GenXers age physically, but mentally, prefer to think like their 18 or 21 year old selves. This has changed the way they work. Because they want to play. We see the beginning of the desire for work-life balance and the way productivity and morale can tank when workers are not happy.

Generations Y (Millennials) and Z were brought up by Generation X. They were a bit coddled because GenX wanted their kids to feel more loved and protected than they did. This makes Generations Y and Z far more aware of their emotions, the status of their mental health, and their refusal to compromise their well-being for a paycheck. We do not yet know whether this is good or bad. It simply is.

All of these generations of workers have been affected by the workplace changes that began with more advanced technology and have been firmly nailed into our culture by COVID-19. And all of these generations manage the changes differently. Boomers and GenXers tend to show up and do the job. Working from home does not seem to be their favorite thing, but they will do as they need to. This is rapidly changing for GenXers, though. As they face their own health challenges and are responsible for caring for aging parents and young children or grandchildren, the remote work option is attractive to some.

There is more of a focus on mental health and wellness in Generation Y and Z employees.  Their parents encouraged them to talk about their feelings and helped them to seek counselling when necessary. That open discussion has contributed not to the need, which was always there, but to the broadcasting of the importance of mental health at work.

We know that production increases when employees are well, both physically and mentally. Why wouldn’t we then promote employee wellness?

Personal experience has shown that cookies in the break room or a $5 gift card for coffee are ok, but those things do not garner employee productivity or loyalty. Nor are they lasting fixes for mental health issues. The healthcare industry is going through its own painful evolution (or de-evolution) and securing mental health support in the form of professional counselling can take weeks. This is not ideal for an employee in crisis. Whether employees are physically in the workplace or not, most employers have recognized that providing Employee Assistance Programs are necessary. Employee Assistance Programs allow for an employee to confidentially call and speak with a counsellor for an initial consultation. If the consulting counselor feels that the employee is in immediate danger, measures are taken to make sure the employee is safe. If the problem is not life threatening, after the initial consultation, it can still take days or weeks to refer the employee to a licensed mental health practitioner.

For those employees who are working remotely, untreated depression and anxiety make the workday a challenging task. There is no real reason to get out of bed, showered and dressed if work can be performed on a laptop, in bed. In this case, a hybrid work environment will at least pull an employee with mental health issues out of the house and into the office, interacting with other people, which is known to be a contributor to good mental health. It also provides an opportunity for managers and colleagues to ‘eyeball’ someone they may be worried about.

Interestingly, some industries offer swift and active mental and physical health care. After speaking with a commercial airline pilot, I learned that any call to Employee Assistance results in immediate access to a licensed health professional. The pilot is then deemed safe or unsafe to fly while counseling is offered. Certain medications are a cause for grounding, and other medications require a weeklong wait period to rule out side effects that may interfere with flight. This seems like common sense in high-risk industries. Yet in most cases, healthcare offers no such safeguards. Employee Assistance is available, but slow, and employees are expected to work unless they are taking narcotics.

What do we do with all of this information?

  • We realize that there are generational differences in the way workers deal with both workspace (remote, hybrid, or in-person). When hiring staff, considering their preferred work environment will add to their wellness and productivity. Some people enjoy the structure of set hours in a designated work environment. Others prefer to work at home, within a range of hours, adhering to deadlines, but avoiding commutes and being available for their families.
  • Changing the work environment can be extremely stressful for some workers. That does not mean that they are not valuable to the team. Good producers should be afforded leeway, when possible, in workspace and schedule to reduce stress and maintain good productivity.
  • Employee assistance programs should be robust and accessible. If current programs are not able to provide swift, adequate consult and referral, it may be time for businesses to have mental health professionals and healthcare providers on staff for counseling sessions, stress management classes, and even blood pressure and glucose monitoring.

The importance of wellness and workspace to our employees is changing. To remain successful, employers must recognize that as the work environment changes and employee generations change, the spaces and care we make accessible to our employees must change.

Also as Joe Raynus discusses another great consideration from an HR perspective is Connecting the AI – ESI (Ethics and Security Integrated) model with employee stress at the workplace by emphasizing how a robust ethical and secure environment positively influences employee well-being.

 In the fast-paced world of technology, where the integration of artificial intelligence becomes paramount, the ESI model stands as a beacon of assurance for employees navigating the digital landscape. This model, meticulously designed to intertwine ethics, security, and integration, not only safeguards the integrity of organizational operations but also creates a work environment that nurtures employee mental well-being.

  1. Ethical Work Culture: The ESI model ensures that organizational ethics are not just a policy on paper but a living, breathing aspect of daily operations. A culture rooted in strong ethical principles promotes trust, respect, and fairness among colleagues. This, in turn, alleviates workplace stress, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose.
  2. Security as a Confidence Pillar: Knowing that data and information are safeguarded by state-of-the-art security measures outlined in the ESI model provides employees with a sense of confidence. This security doesn’t just protect organizational assets but extends to the psychological safety of employees who can focus on their tasks without the looming fear of cyber threats.
  3. Seamless Integration, Reduced Friction: ESI promotes the seamless integration of AI into work processes. When employees witness the smooth collaboration between humans and artificial intelligence, it reduces the friction often accompanying technological advancements. The result is a harmonious work environment where employees are less resistant to change, reducing stress associated with adapting to new technologies.
  4. Employee Empowerment: The ESI model empowers employees by involving them in the ethical decision-making processes and emphasizing their role in maintaining security standards. This empowerment instills a sense of responsibility and control, mitigating the feelings of powerlessness that can contribute to workplace stress.
  5. Continuous Learning and Adaptation: ESI encourages a culture of continuous learning and adaptation, acknowledging that technology evolves, and so should the workforce. This proactive approach to skills development not only ensures employees stay relevant but also reduces anxiety about obsolescence.

In essence, the ESI model, with its focus on ethics, security, and integration, becomes a holistic framework that not only fortifies the organizational structure but also creates a supportive ecosystem where employees thrive, stress is reduced, and innovation flourishes.

Written by Barbara Schwartz, MPH, MLS (ASCPCM)