The ability to work remotely has been a big boon for both employees and organizations. COVID-19 accelerated experiences in working virtually for a significant portion of the workforce. But, while the digital age has powered the ability to work remotely, and conveniently, from virtually anywhere, as the boundaries between professional and personal lives have blurred, the mental toll of remote work is becoming increasingly evident.
As Kathryn Mayer points out in an article for SHRM: “Fully remote (40 percent) ad hybrid work (38 percent) are associated with an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression symptoms compared to in-person work (35 percent).
HR leaders can play an important role in helping managers and supervisors understand the risks and take proactive steps to address employee mental health and wellbeing needs.
Understanding the Unique Challenges of Remote Work
It’s important for managers and supervisors to understand the unique challenges of remote work and the impact these challenges can have on employees’ mental health.
For instance, the isolation of working alone and without traditional face-to-face interactions, can be stifling. Without a clear distinction between office hours and home life, burnout looms large.
In the silence of a home office, the weight of overwork can become all too palpable. Supervisors and managers can help employees navigate the stress of working remotely by providing support and resources in a culture that promotes a healthy work/life balance.
Supporting Employee Mental Health Needs
Supervisors and managers need to be alert to the signs that employees might be experiencing the negative impacts of remote work and related stressors. Certainly this can be more challenging to detect in remote environments. But proactive efforts can help. For instance:
- Checking in regularly with employees.
- Carefully monitoring employee interactions during virtual meetings and calls.
- Polling employees regularly to assess satisfaction and engagement.
Recognizing the signs of potential mental health struggles in remote employees is the first step. But recognition alone isn’t enough.
Providing tangible resources, whether counseling services, or ongoing encouragement to take mental health days and know when to “turn off” work pressures is crucial. Managers and supervisors can play an important role here, but they too must receive training and support to serve in this role.
Building a Supportive Remote Culture
A supportive remote culture doesn’t materialize overnight. It’s cultivated through regular and ongoing contact with remote employees, and opportunities for virtual and on-site employees to interact with each other.
Regular virtual team-building activities can help foster camaraderie even from a distance. These connections can be nurtured through consistent check-ins, ensuring that every team member feels seen and heard.
Remote employees can thrive in an environment of seamless and ongoing communication—a culture where struggles can be shared without fear of judgment or repercussions.
Providing Tools and Platforms to Support Wellbeing
In our interconnected world, a plethora of digital tools stands ready to support mental well-being. For instance, meditation apps can be used to offer moments of respite. Virtual fitness programs can boost both mental and physical well-being. And online communities can provide a space for shared experiences and mutual support.
As we continue to navigate the complexities of remote or hybrid work, the mental wellbeing of employees shouldn’t be an afterthought—it should be top-of-mind. While technology has proven its ability to help boost productivity and business results, it’s important to recognize that it’s not technology, but the people behind the screens, that matter most.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.