At this point, everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in some shape or form. Whether it’s adjusting to a new work-life balance, the loss of a job or a loved one, or simply being forced to live in an entirely new way, the weight of the crisis has been heavy.
For many people, the pandemic has made remote work the new normal. This has altered people’s mental health significantly.
It is imperative to understand how this pandemic has affected our mental health and how that translates to how we perform our jobs. Promoting mental health in the workplace, especially during these virtual and distancing times, is perhaps one of the most successful ways to combat the growing rates of burnout associated with remote work.
Remote Work and Employees’ Mental Health
First, there is a staggering number of people fearing job security. A survey of employees working at small, medium, and large organizations found that 37% of respondents feared layoffs.
One of the most challenging aspects of working remotely is that we are always surrounded by our work. We no longer have a physical barrier between our work life and home life.
Life is no less stressful for those who still physically go to work.
Many employees, especially those in service industries, maintained their jobs in settings that require them to interact with numerous people on a daily basis. Their primary source of stress and anxiety stems from the possibility that they may unknowingly come into contact with someone who is sick, and then carry the virus home to their own family.
The many stressors, coupled with the constant exhaustion, are also causing a significant wave of burnout among employees of all kinds. After nearly a year of dealing with uncertain and challenging circumstances, even those who were able to maintain their motivation and positive outlook are starting to succumb to the burnout.
The Pandemic’s Impact on Employee Motivation
In October 2020, a study conducted by YouGov showed that 44% of employees under the age of 35 were suffering from a lack of motivation at work, while only half of their more experienced counterparts, aged 45-54, shared the same sentiment.
Why is the pandemic affecting the motivation of younger employees at a disproportionate rate?
Many factors contribute to this outcome.
One variable is that younger employees have experienced much of their workplace autonomy being taken away by managers.
Many young professionals are also starting families and have younger children, which means they likely have a lot of distractions at home, not to mention all of the additional responsibilities that come with home-schooling.
As employees continue to work from home, they feel disconnected from their teams. This loss of face-to-face connection eliminates a great deal of motivation and drive regarding how we collaborate with our team.
How Remote Work Is Changing Company Culture
Working remotely has greatly impacted company culture. Not only are we not communicating as often, but when we are speaking to each other, it is trending towards being strictly business – almost entirely about tasks, responsibilities, and work.
This streamlined communication may be efficient, but it creates separation between team members, putting a strain on otherwise healthy working relationships.
When teams work together in an office space, there is a level of socialization taking place throughout the day. Studies have shown that socializing with coworkers can actually improve overall productivity, motivation, and working relationships.
A study by HBR found that employees who have a close friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged at their job. The lack of connection and communication between teams affects engagement, which affects workplace loyalty. Many employees have become disengaged as a result of the isolating nature of remote work.
Remote Work And Its Impact on Productivity
Interestingly, the expert opinions regarding the pandemic’s effect on productivity are split.
Some researchers have found that working from home increased productivity. They assume that this results from employees having the freedom to craft their work environments, making them more focused and engaged with their day-to-day responsibilities.
However, other studies and anecdotal testimonies demonstrate that the longer the pandemic continues, the more likely will employees be to experience burnout and work fatigue.
The overall consensus is that every employee is handling their working conditions being altered by the pandemic in their own unique way.
How Today’s Leaders Can Help
Managers and business leaders have a real opportunity to help employees make it through to the other side of this pandemic.
First and foremost, it is essential for leaders to acknowledge the impact of the pandemic, and to remember to treat others and themselves with compassion on days where they might be struggling.
Leaders should open up and embrace vulnerability to encourage their team members to do the same. By communicating the challenges the pandemic has brought to their own day-to-day lives, leaders will be modeling the kind of behavior that breeds trust and commitment within a team. Consequently, leaders can instill empathy within the team through their common struggles related to the pandemic.
Leaders can also contribute towards their team members’ mental health by cultivating a culture of open communication and check-ins. Regularly and authentically communicating openly with one another shows compassion and gives team members a chance to feel vulnerable with one another.
By openly speaking about how the pandemic has brought such uncertainty to their lives, leaders will ensure their team members feel more comfortable sharing their own stories. Otherwise, employees will end up keeping their stories of struggle to themselves, harming their job performance and mental health.
Compassion, vulnerability, and connection – this is how leaders and teams can successfully overcome the challenges and uncertainties brought by the pandemic while maintaining, or even elevating, a healthy emotional state.