How to manage work stress when working from home
Adjusting to major change is rarely easy and for many of Australians, the changes associated with the impact of COVID-19 are some of the most challenging we will ever see.
For approximately 2.5 million Australians now working where they live, every day can be a grind as the boundaries between work and home life become blurred. And the blurring of these lines mixed in with the uncertainty surrounding the current Australian health landscape, is expected to have a huge impact on the mental health of many of these 2.5 million Aussies working from home.
||According to the Director of the Australian Institute Centre for Future Work James Stanford, the number of Aussies permanently working from home will significantly increase even after the pandemic is over – which is why it’s never been more important to focus attention on how to minimise working from home stress.|
“It is likely that much of the increase in at-home work will become permanent, even after the immediate health emergency passes, so it is crucial … to pay top-priority attention to ensuring the safety and fairness of work from home arrangements,” Stanford said.
With so many people not only working from home but likely to permanently do so in the foreseeable future, let’s look at the mental health warning signs to be aware of, the strategies for managing stress in the workplace and some of your employer’s responsibilities you need to know about.
Why your mental health could be at risk and the warning signs
A UK study that looked into the benefits and dangers of working from home found that workplace stress was increased in those working from home because of the general lack of structure and decrease in efficiency which leads to working longer hours. In fact, the study found that 48 percent of people who work from home worked longer hours.
||Working longer hours to make up for a drop in efficiency, a lack of structure along with a lack of colleague interaction and social aspect of a workplace, are the main reasons why people who work from home suffer from mental illness such as depression and anxiety.|
If you’re noticing that these factors are impacting you, the warning signs you should be looking out for that indicate your mental health is suffering are:
- Sleeping issues or sleeping too much
- Increase in irritability, frustration and anger outbursts
- Increased fatigue
- Decreased confidence
||If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms you should immediately contact your employer to report what you’re experiencing as a result of work-related stress. Your employer should put you in touch with a support network and/or guide you on how to make a claim for workers compensation if symptoms persist and get progressively worse.|
Strategies for managing stress in the workplace and home office
Many of the mental health factors that can arise from working from home stem from not being able to psychologically buy into the fact that for a designated period of the day/night, your home is your workspace. To help you with this and to reduce the risk of your mental health suffering when you’re working from home here are some strategies to use:
Create your own routine
This is one of the most important strategies for anyone working at home. Organising your work tasks, designating breaks and outlining your goals within your specified hours of work will give you more direction and purpose.
Some great and simple strategies you can use to shape your routine and make working from home more familiar are:
- Always working in the same part of the house
- Work for a similar amount of hours before taking a break
- Work and break during roughly the same hours most days
- Always get dressed/shower prior to commencing work
Routine will also improve efficiency which should prevent you from working longer hours and establish a more structured environment similar to the one at you have at the office.
Maintain healthy practices
When working from home, it can be a lot easier to slip into unhealthy practices that can contribute to poor mental health than it would be if you were working out of the office. The unhealthy practices that can creep up on you, increase your work-related stress and ultimately impact your mental health when working from home are:
- Binge eating
- Sleeping in
- Drinking alcohol during office hours/ increased alcohol intake
- Neglecting exercise
- Poor ergonomics
Binge/overeating can be a real problem. Binge eating can impact your mood and appearance which can negatively influence your self-esteem and mental health. Try to avoid this by sticking to your planned meals schedule and restrict your snacking. When you do snack, try to avoid high sugar and fatty foods such as chocolate and chips and look at alternatives like nuts and fresh fruit.
Sleeping in and drinking alcohol during work hours are not an option for most people working in the office, but it’s a temptation available to those working from home. This should be avoided as both can impact your efficiency, extend your working hours, interfere with your routine and influence mood – which can all lead to mental illness (such as depression and anxiety).
||It’s also important to stay hydrated at all times throughout work hours. Ensure you have a bottle of water within reach at your workstation.|
Daily exercise whether it be going for a walk, run or in-house gym/aerobics session before, during or after work will not only be physically beneficial but do wonders for your mental health. When you perform physical activity your body releases more ‘positive’ natural chemicals to your brain like endorphins and serotonin which regulate your mood and counter any higher than usual levels of anxiety you may be feeling.
An ergonomic workstation setup that has been assessed and approved by your employer and successfully undergone a workstation self-assessment, will give you the best chance at being productive and avoiding physical injuries which can harmfully impact your mental health.
For example, if your home office design hasn’t been ergonomically assessed and is located in an area of the house where the light is reflecting unevenly, causing shadows in front of you – this significantly increases your risk of developing migraines. People who suffer migraines are three times more likely to experience depression.
For more detailed information on setting up an ergonomic home workstation click here.
When you’re on a break, take a break
When you work from home the increased time in isolation combined with a reduction in physical activity (the average person notches up 5000-6000 steps per day going to and from work) can take a significant toll on your mental health. That’s why it’s critical that during your scheduled breaks throughout your work day, you leave your home office and spend your time in the backyard or maybe go outside for a walk.
Doing this, you’ll likely get positive human interaction within your household and/or come across people on your walk to break up your work day and give you something to look forward to. Seeing others during break time can reduce the harmful strain isolation can cause on your mood.
Digitally interact with colleagues
You may not be able to physically interact with your colleagues but your employer should establish a clear line of communication to allow you to digitally interact with them.
||You should make the most of this as staying in touch via video calls, instant messaging platforms or email will help reinforce the fact that you’re part of a larger team working towards common goals. Just having that digital interaction and reinforcement from your peers that you’re not the only one working from home can significantly boost your mood and motivation and create a greater sense of teamwork.|
Employer responsibilities to employees working from home
Just as if you were working out of the office, your employer still owes you a duty of care when it comes to your health and wellbeing while working from home.
||It’s important to realise your employer is required to assess your suitability to perform your work tasks prior to giving you the go-ahead to do so and then provide you with the tools to perform these tasks in the safest way possible.|
To do this, your employer has a responsibility to you to:
- Conduct a risk assessment of your workstation to identify any hazards. This can be done in person or via video call.
- Provide you with clear instructions on how to perform your work duties in a safe manner with respect to your mental health.
- Ensure you understand how to report any issues you may be experiencing with your mental health.
- Provide you with access to communicate with colleagues and bosses through video calling and instant messaging platforms and email.