Mental Stress when Working from Home? – Taking Stock after Two Years of Pandemic

Mental Stress when Working from Home? – Taking Stock after Two Years of Pandemic

Working from home creates flexibility, but can also cause psychological stress. This makes it all the more important for workers to get professional support when needed. Learn in this blog post what effects working from home can have on our mental health and what aspects need to be taken into consideration in new working models.

A total of 703 days lie between March 16, 2020, the date when the Swiss Federal Council declared a public health state of emergency for Switzerland, and February 17, 2022, the date when most of the pandemic restrictions were rescinded. During that time, many jobholders worked primarily from home. One person’s joy is another’s sorrow: employees’ perceptions of remote work from home offices vary widely. One fact for certain, though, is that we all dealt differently with the situation of being compelled to work from home, and it even became a psychological strain for some people.

What Does “Mental Stress at Work” Mean?

Marcel Baumgartner, a research associate at the FHNW School of Applied Psychology, defines “mental stress” as meaning all of the external forces that act upon us and cost us energy. In the business world, those forces can be general working conditions, specific conflicts, intense pressure to perform, or a big workload. The effects of those stress factors – “strains” as they are called in science – can vary enormously from one person to another.

How Can Companies Help Their Employees Cope with Mental Stress?

SIX has already been working for many years now with its external partner Movis to help SIX employees deal with mental stress. The consultancy firm is specialized in occupational health management. Employees of SIX can use its counseling services for occupational as well as personal matters. Movis consultant Beat Vassalli says that the number of counseling sessions and their topics haven’t changed much over the last two years. He adds, however, that the effects of the pandemic played an ever-larger role over time: isolation, a lack of social contact, and the blurring of boundaries between work and private life were things that became stressful when working from home. Moreover, the pressure and pace of work increased when working frome home, he explains, and thus so did the risk of getting caught in an acceleration trap. “Consequently, stress, overwork, and depression were brought up more frequently in counseling sessions,” Vassalli says, adding: “Fortunately we were able to offer and conduct face-to-face counseling throughout the entire time. That’s essential, especially during acute crises.”

What Can Companies Do to Destigmatize Mental Stress at Work?

Marcel Baumgartner Beat Vassalli agree that it takes easily accessible counseling services for managers and staff plus additional measures on the part of the employer to destigmatize mental stress in everyday work. Talking openly about the subject of mental health is essential here; it can have a positive signaling effect, for example, if managers suffering psychological distress communicate the reason for an absence – be it due to burnout or another mental health disorder – openly and honestly. Generally, alongside current business topics, it is important that discussions about personal well-being are also an integral part of regularly held conversations between workers and line managers.

Here to Stay? The Future of Working from Home

Baumgartner notes that prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many small and midsize enterprises, but larger companies as well, held the view that working from home isn’t practicable and results in productivity and efficiency losses. But after having been forced to switch to remote work, employers, he says, quickly realized that it is indeed viable and even led to productivity and efficiency gains.

Working from Home as the New Gold Standard

But what will happen now as we gradually head back to the office and return to normalcy? Does this also mark a return to “old” ways of working? Like many other experts, Baumgartner is certain that working from home will be retained in the future as an integral part of knowledge and office work. The possibility to work from home has now also become an important job criterion for employees and employment seekers. SIX was already well-organized digitally before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and working from home was entirely feasible. Having had mostly positive experiences over the last two years, SIX would like to continue to offer its employees more flexible work options in the future.

How to Promote Mental Health at Work – 3 Tips and Tricks

  1. Personal reflection: Regularly ask yourself questions such as: How is my work going right now? What (emotional) needs do I have? How well are those needs being met at the moment? This creates awareness for improvements.
  2. Reflection at the team level: Regularly organize team retrospections to discuss questions like: What do we do well and what less well? What do we want to improve?
  3. Contrasting experiences to improve work-life balance: Whoever spends the entire day at work facing a computer screen can achieve a good balance by seeking out contrasting experiences such as engaging in physical activity or going on outings in his or her leisure time.

Using Experiences from the Pandemic as an Opportunity

“With regard to mental health, going back to the office presents a valuable opportunity to reflect on experiences of the last two years – both personally and collectively in teams – and to further refine ways of working,” Baumgartner says. He explains that, this way, the positive aspects of working from home, such as the flexibility it affords, can be retained while creative ideas can be devised to address the negative facets, such as the lack of informal interaction with co-workers.

Working Models of the Future: “Genuine Freedom of Action” Is Essential

Baumgartner emphasizes that it is especially important for companies to give their teams sufficient leeway to organize their collaboration. Only that way are teams able to constantly perform at a high level and to lastingly contribute to the success of a company without this coming at the expense of employees’ mental health, he says. This “genuine freedom of action,” as Baumgartner calls it, creates contemporary, employee-friendly work conditions and accordingly also has a beneficial impact on a company’s corporate culture,” he asserts.