Do You Have a Work Life Balance While Working At Home?
The past few weeks have represented a paradigm shift in the way so many of us live and work. As of March 19, 2020, nearly one-third of Americans were working from home due to the current health and economic crisis. Yet while many blog posts have been devoted to teaching us how to be more productive when working from home, very few people are talking about how this shift has affected our mental health and work-life balance.
Previously, those of us working in an office could leave our troubles behind at 5:00 PM and go home to unwind with our loved ones without another thought to the stress of the workday. Working from home makes it more difficult to switch off the part of our brain that’s still at work. With work constantly at our fingertips via our laptops and cell phones, our work-life balance could drastically suffer, negatively affecting our mental health and relationships with others.
As a result, 7 in 10 Americans indicated that the current crisis has been the most stressful event of their entire professional career. In this article, we explore how working from home is affecting people’s mental and physical health, and what you can do to maintain a healthy work-life balance despite working from home during the current health crisis.
Work From Home Stressors During Current Crises
Thanks to social distancing guidelines put into place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other regulatory agencies, many of us are now working from home for the first time. If you have never worked from home before, adjusting to this new way of life can present many challenges.
Unfortunately, most employers are more concerned with how working from home affects productivity than how it affects our mental and physical health. As a result, they are doing everything they can to ensure that employees remain on-track with work, despite the fact that we are working through an unprecedented global crisis. In the past few weeks, we would venture to guess that we’ve all had a number of unnecessary Zoom meetings with this goal in mind!
Employers are also concerned with their bottom-line — in other words, how the stressful present will affect their company’s financial future. Upper management is struggling to placate investors while looking for ways to cut costs. As a result, millions of Americans have been laid off, with over 30 million filings for unemployment in the past six weeks.
However, even those of us who have, thankfully, kept our jobs have not been exempt from the financial stress of the current crises. Many Americans are being asked to take temporary pay cuts or work overtime without additional pay due to financial constraints. When working from home means accepting a smaller paycheck (despite the fact that our bills are not shrinking proportionately!), it’s easy to see how this situation can lead to financial stress, relationship conflict and more at home.
Other Americans are living in fear that their jobs will become obsolete or that they will be laid off. Seeing that their friends and coworkers have lost their jobs, they may feel pressured to keep up an unrealistic standard of work by putting in long hours and taking on additional assignments to prove their worth at their companies. This undoubtedly affects work-life balance, in turn negatively impacting our physical and mental health.
How to Manage Work From Home Stress
You may be wondering, why should we be concerned about the detrimental effects of current events on our work-life balance? It seems like we have much more important things to worry about right now, yet these worries are intricately connected to our relationship with stress at work and at home.
If we want to stay healthy (and if employers want to maintain a healthy and productive workforce), it’s important to minimize stressors as much as possible during these unprecedented times. Stress weakens the immune system and makes us more vulnerable to contracting infections — not to mention that millions of Americans are already living with preexisting mental and physical health conditions that could be gravely worsened by an increased workload.
What Employers Can Do
Undoubtedly, employers need to increase workplace supports and resources for their employees during this stressful time if they do not want to see decreases in productivity or increases in illness among their workforce. Some of the supports employers can and should put into place during this time include:
- Information campaigns. Your employees are facing a lot of unknowns right now — so don’t let questions about how your organization is managing the situation compound these anxieties. Creating email newsletters, an internal webpage or company-wide announcements with important updates on the current health situation in the workplace can help your employees stay in-the-know and feel more in control of what’s going on in their lives.
- Increased HR support. Many of your employees may not have utilized HR resources in the past, so they may not know whom they should contact with questions about health benefits, working from home, time-off policies or other forms of employee assistance. Make sure your employees know who they can contact with these questions — and, most importantly, that they do have options for getting increased support from their employer.
- Self-care resources. Emotional well-being is an important component of maintaining a healthy and productive workforce. As a result, you may consider offering self-care resources to employees to help them cope with stress during these uncertain and unpredictable times. You should also make sure to emphasize mental health benefits available to your employees, such as Employee Assistance Programs, and how they can access them right now.
- Management education. Working from home increases the risk of burnout among your employees, especially if managers do not respect your employees’ working hours or are subjecting their employees to excess scrutiny to make sure they are at their computers at all times. Educate your managers about best practices when dealing with remote teams, and make sure to issue clear directives about respecting employees’ time on and off the clock.
- Access to hygiene supplies. Not all employers may be able to offer work from home options to their employees right now. Still, these employers must recognize the stress inherent in asking their employees to come to their workplace right now, especially with so many of us concerned about contracting an illness. Making sure your workplace is well-stocked with personal hygiene supplies, such as hand soap and hand sanitizer, will go a long way to alleviate these concerns and help your employees feel safe. You should also issue formal policies to protect your employees, such as asking people to wear masks on the job or stressing social distancing guidelines in the workplace, and help everyone stay healthy and safe.
What You Can Do
Unfortunately, for many of us, our employers’ reaction to current events is not within our control, so we may not always be able to access the appropriate resources that employers should be providing right now. (However, it’s important to note that speaking out about the struggles you are facing to an HR representative or trusted supervisor can help put pressure on companies to provide these supports if they are not doing so already.)
Still, you may be interested to know what you can do on your own to manage stress due to working from home — and to promote a healthy work-life balance despite these changes to the way you live and work. These simple tips can help you maintain your health and wellness while working from home during this situation:
- Keep a regular schedule. Routines are essential to our mental health. They create a sense of stability that helps us feel normal and in-control despite less than ideal circumstances. Your schedule should specify your waking and sleeping times, your designated working (and non-working) hours and what you will do to stay happy, healthy and social despite working from home. Stick to your schedule as often as possible to promote a sense of stability — and make sure that you include plenty of scheduled breaks to help you rest and recharge throughout your workday!
- Stay healthy. Whether or not we get sick is not entirely within our control, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make our best effort to prevent ourselves from getting sick. Knowing that you are doing everything you can to protect yourself from illness will help you feel more at ease despite the uncertainty of the pandemic. This includes washing your hands thoroughly and often (for at least 20 seconds!), getting enough sleep, eating regular meals and staying hydrated. You should also follow social distancing guidelines, limiting your contact with others and minimizing trips outside the home.
- Limit media consumption. One of the biggest stressors in our lives right now is the news media. While it’s important to stay informed of what’s going on in the world, many headlines are sensationalizing the skyrocketing anxiety, rather than alleviating it. As a result, you should set clear boundaries for your consumption of media, including both the news and others’ comments on social media. For example, you may want to give yourself a set period of time, such as 30 minutes in the evenings, during which you can browse the news while limiting your exposure throughout the rest of the day.
When Work From Home Stress Becomes Too Much
We are living in uncertain times where very little feels under our control. Despite your best efforts to stay happy and healthy, you may find yourself feeling stressed, anxious, sad, frustrated or hopeless. A broad range of emotional reactions is to be expected when dealing with something as stressful as a global pandemic — but that doesn’t mean that you have to go through it alone. Speaking to a therapist about what you are going through can help you process the grief and trauma you may be experiencing, helping you relieve stress and stay healthy and productive while working from home.
Here at The Meadowglade, our trained mental health counselors are currently providing telemedicine services, so you can speak with someone about your concerns without putting your health at risk by leaving the home.