The COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many of us working at home for months, has intensified the impact of work on our personal lives. While such changes have undoubtedly given many employees an opportunity to prove their efficiency, their well-being has also suffered. The financial crisis, widespread layoffs, and steep unemployment have increased pressure on those fortunate enough to still have jobs. Meanwhile, under remote work conditions, opportunities to build and maintain positive and supportive relationships with colleagues — which can boost job satisfaction — have dwindled. Boundaries between work and life have eroded for those who work from home, leading many to feel like they live at work because of pandemic-limited opportunities for entertainment and socializing.1 And societally, we’ve all been touched by crippling uncertainty and ongoing worries for ourselves and our loved ones.
These precarious conditions have triggered an epidemic of burnout and left many employees struggling to cope. This isn’t a surprising development; research conducted by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence found that 2020 was the most stressful year people have ever experienced in their working lives. Seventy-eight percent of the workers surveyed said that the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health, 76% indicated that companies should be doing more to protect workers’ mental health, and a staggering 85% said that newfound work-related stress is affecting their home lives.
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Even in ordinary, nonpandemic times, mental health issues are often difficult to detect before they outwardly affect employees’ ability to work. In part, this is due to fears of social stigma; people may be reluctant to come forward due to concerns over how coworkers will perceive them.2 But the challenges of self-assessment are also a major factor. Some employees struggle to recognize or accept their own mental health issues: “Everyone else seems to be coping through the pandemic, so why is it such a struggle for me?”
Companies need to proactively identify their overarching cultural challenges and holistically design support systems that address the specific forms of stress and anxiety their employees face. It may seem harder to build a culture of care in a virtual setting than in a shared workspace, but as a leader, you can still make a real impact remotely.
1. B.A. Winstead, V.J. Derlega, M.J. Montgomery, et al., “The Quality of Friendships at Work and Job Satisfaction,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 12, no. 2 (May 1995): 199-215.
2. P. Bharadwaj, M.M. Pai, and A. Suziedelyte, “Mental Health Stigma,” Economics Letters 159 (October 2017): 57-60.
3. M.J. Gill, T.J. Roulet, and S.P. Kerridge, “Mentoring for Mental Health: A Mixed-Method Study of the Benefits of Formal Mentoring Programmes in the English Police Force,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 108 (October 2018): 201-213.
4. Research by Ben Laker and organizations such as WayUp and Oceanova have explored the efficacy of five wellness initiatives, including active listening, revisiting values, modeling wellness, addressing wellness in reviews, and introducing “bookends” to the workday.