Remote Working Yields Mixed Results on Mental Health, Well-Being

Remote Working Yields Mixed Results on Mental Health, Well-Being

While workers value flexibility, 42% say co-workers expect them to be ‘always on’
Frustrated while working from home

While the pandemic-driven shift to remote working has boosted the productivity of some, it can have both positive and negative effects on mental health and outlook, new research suggests.

In some cases, those working from home say the experience has reduced stress, eliminating some of the challenges of the office environment. For others, however, the change in where they work has led to longer hours and difficult communication.

A pair of recently released polls of remote workers illustrate just how much the new normal of the COVID crisis can be both a blessing and a curse.

No clear end to the workday

A global survey of workers by technology consulting firm Adaptavist found that more than a third of respondents (35%) believe they have been more productive since they began working from home, while another 47% said they have been equally as productive as they were in the office. The survey polled workers in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia.

But despite the apparent rise in productivity, some said they faced challenges when trying to separate their personal and professional lives, resulting in a negative impact on their overall well-being.

More than 1 in 4 respondents (26%) said shutting down and ending work for the day is their greatest challenge when working from home. Specifically, 15% said they were tempted to continue working once the workday ended, and 11% said colleagues expected them to work after hours.

Communicating with co-workers remotely can also be stressful, according to the survey. When asked about their greatest sources of pressure and frustration…

  • 42% said co-workers expected them to be “always on” or available
  • 31% cited having to check multiple communication channels for work

Some employees may need to be more proactive about setting boundaries, particularly if remote working continues after the pandemic, as some experts predict. In fact, the Adaptavist survey found that a majority of respondents (60%) said they didn’t turn off their notifications at the end of the workday, allowing colleagues to reach them at any time.

Flexibility gives workers a boost

Other workers have found that their lives have changed for the better thanks to working remotely. A separate recent survey by employment website FlexJobs and the advocacy organization Mental Health America found that employees who have flexible work options are less likely to experience poor mental health than those who do not.

More than half (57%) of the 800-plus workers surveyed said having this flexibility allows them to change stressful things about their jobs, such as how much work they are handling at a given time and when they can take time off.

In contrast, only 37% of respondents who don’t have work flexibility said they can easily change stressful elements related to their work.

Also, only 17% of workers who have flexible work options said their mental health was “poor” or “very poor,” compared with 27% of workers without flexible work options who described their mental health as such.

While the jury may still be out on whether the pros of working from home ultimately outweigh the cons, workers overwhelmingly seem to believe flexible work options can improve their quality of life. Specifically, among both those working remotely and those employed on site ...

  • 92% said a flexible job makes them happier (or could potentially do so)
  • 83% said flexible work options lowers their stress (or could do so)
  • 80% said flexible work solutions can (or does) help them to better take care of their mental health
  • 67% said work flexibility gives them more time to exercise (or would do so)

In line with these findings, an earlier survey from June 2020 found that some remote workers reported having more time to pursue hobbies and other interests, which can improve one’s quality of life.

Methodologies: For the Adaptavist survey, market research company Propeller Insights surveyed more than 2,800 workers in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia in May 2020.

For the FlexJobs and Mental Health America survey, more than 800 U.S. workers were polled across all ages and income levels on July 15-30, 2020.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.