Pardon the workplace pun, but much of the talk around the water cooler has been about the merits of working in the office versus working from home. Most recently, Amazon CEO, Andy Jassy, has released some thinly veiled threats to employees who continue to advocate for working from home.
It’s fair to acknowledge that in addition to the number of people who moved their work home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many people whose work BEGAN as a work from home position – something that was offered as part of a mutually beneficial agreement. At the time, the right to work from home opened up opportunities for many well-qualified people who didn’t live in major metropolitan areas, or near corporate offices. Today, companies such as Amazon have been unfairly targeting these people, presenting ultimatums; move closer, come into the office, or lose your job.
While the conventional office setup has been a mainstay for decades, recent discussions have shed light on its potential negative impact on mental health. It’s true that there are some benefits to working in an office, and some people prefer it, but some managers and companies have ignored the various ways in which working in an office environment can adversely affect mental well-being.
This guide was written to help keep you inspired to fight for the right to work from home, while also prioritizing your mental and emotional health.
Here are some points you can make when discussing WFH options with your employer:
The Commute Conundrum
One of the most immediate stressors associated with office work is the daily commute. Long commutes, whether through congested traffic or packed public transportation, can significantly affect stress levels and anxiety. Commuting not only eats into valuable personal time but also exposes individuals to unpredictable delays and discomfort, contributing to a sense of helplessness and frustration. These rules may not always take individual circumstances into consideration. Bottom line: the effect of these daily experiences can lead to burnout, leaving employees drained even before their workday begins.
Isolation vs. Collaboration
Interestingly, while offices foster collaboration among colleagues, they can also lead to feelings of isolation. Cubicle arrangements and open-plan offices may inadvertently create barriers between individuals, limiting authentic interaction The pressure to maintain a certain image or attitude can lead to a sense of loneliness. Loneliness may not seem like a big deal, but it’s been recently recognized as a public health crisis.
In some situations, the competition and comparison in office spaces can intensify feelings of inadequacy. This has has resulted in treatment centers like TRUE Behavioral Health and Addiction creating treatment programs and resources to address loneliness.
Blurring Boundaries: Work-Life Imbalance
In the digital age, the distinction between work and personal life has become increasingly blurred due to constant connectivity. Office work, with its fixed hours and structured environment, can contribute to work encroaching upon personal time. The inability to disengage from work-related matters can impede relaxation and rest, creating what some decry as the “always on” mentality. Further, the pressure to appear constantly productive can result in longer work hours, further skewing the balance between professional commitments and personal life.
Sedentary Lifestyle and Physical Health
While some companies have taken steps to address the sedentary nature of office, work, the face remains that sitting at a desk for long periods of time can impact physical health, consequently influencing mental health. Prolonged periods of inactivity can contribute to various health issues, including obesity and musculoskeletal problems, which have been linked to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. The lack of opportunities for physical movement and exposure to natural light can contribute to a decline in mood-regulating neurotransmitters, exacerbating mental health challenges.
Hierarchy and Performance Pressures
Before we jump into this point, businesses and employers have the right to set goals and hold people accountable who aren’t working, or holding others back. The issue as it relates to in office vs. WFM is how the hierarchical structure inherent in many office settings can create an environment of unnecessary performance pressure and competition.
The pursuit of promotions and climbing the ladder can lead to a constant state of stress and anxiety. There are plenty of high-performing employees who can thrive outside of the spotlight. For them, the fear of failure or underperforming (as if being on some kind of stage) can lead to a toxic cycle of self-doubt and perfectionism, taking a toll on mental well-being and self-esteem.
While the traditional office environment has long been the cornerstone of professional life, its impact on mental health is a pressing concern that needs to be considered. From the strains of commuting to the challenges of work-life balance and the inherent pressures of office dynamics, the toll on mental well-being is substantial.
As workplaces evolve and consider the well-being of their employees, addressing these concerns should be top of mind. And while many companies are doing the right thing by embracing flexible work arrangements, prioritizing authentic communication, and promoting a healthier work culture, plenty more can be done to pave the way for a more supportive and mentally nurturing professional landscape.