Ask any mental health professional, and they’ll tell you that both internal and external factors play into an individual’s mental health, and that work is undoubtedly one of the most impactful external factors there is. That’s why, in recent years, phrases like imposter syndrome, burnout, and languishing have become so widely used and understood—nearly no one is immune to work’s effects on mental health.
In fact, according to a 2022 survey by the HR consulting firm, Workhuman, 54% of workers feel “mentally exhausted and drained after every workday,” and 44% have “trouble staying focused on the job.” That, in part, explains why 47 million workers quit their jobs in 2021.
While working remotely or hybrid can be a great boost to mental health by offering workers flexibility, we also know that the lack of boundaries between work life and home life can lead to the exhausting feeling of being “always on.” And for employers, it can be hard to determine how best to support their employees’ mental health in substantial and sustainable ways. So, who is responsible for remote employees’ mental health, and what can be done about it?
Below, the Daybase team breaks down how employees can take care of their mental health while working remotely, and what companies can and should do to support them.
How Employees Can Take Care of Their Mental Health While Working Remotely
Stressed and burnt-out employees aren’t an anomaly. In fact, mental health issues are so prevalent that according to a 2021 report from the HR consulting firm Mindshare Partners, 76% of surveyed employees said they experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition, and 50% were considering leaving their job because of their mental health.
So what can an employee do to take care of their own mental health? Well-meaning suggestions like going for walks and drinking more water are a great place to start, but they’re not enough. In their 2021 Healthy and Safe Telework Brief, the World Health Organization laid out more robust and specific actions people can take to maintain their mental health while working remotely. From sticking to a daily schedule to prioritizing creativity and connecting with others, the intended goal is to create strong work-life boundaries and a routine that feels physically and emotionally invigorating.
“Humans need routine,” says Melissa Doman, M.A. an organizational psychologist and author of the book Yes, You Can Talk About Mental Health at Work (Here’s Why And How To Do It Really Well). “In a world that feels chaotic and overwhelming, some form of routine is what keeps us from losing our minds. Especially in a remote work environment…routine is even more crucial.”
Doman recommends creating strong boundaries between work and home, and not working 24/7 just because you can. “Have a dedicated workspace, do not work where you sleep or eat (depending on your home setup), and watch out for the slippery slope of always being connected to tech (i.e. just one more email, one more this, one more that),” she explains. That’s a great way to be constantly connected, never give your brain a break, and eventually go pop.”
It’s an employee’s responsibility to know themselves and the personal triggers that cause mental health symptoms, as well as the tools and options they have for taking care of themselves. “That's the foundation of emotional intelligence—self-awareness and then self-regulation,” explains Camille Preston, Ph.D., the Founder and CEO of AIM Leadership. “You have to take responsibility and have self-agency to set yourself up and to identify what you need in order to be successful.”
For example, for some employees, self-awareness might mean not working from home, even though they work remotely. Having a place to go in the mornings, like a Daybase work spot, can be incredibly helpful in terms of being dressed and out in the world, and surrounded by other people. For others, it might mean working different hours or condensing the workweek into four days instead of five.
Employees should also take advantage of all the resources and benefits their company offers, from paid time off to employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs are especially important, as more and more companies are baking in mental health resources—whether it’s discounts to services like Headspace or Betterhelp, or full coverage for weekly visits with a therapist. And beyond resources that are specific to mental health, many companies offer employees benefits like gym, museum, childcare stipends or discounts, and even the aforementioned on-demand workspaces, which have the potential to improve an employees’ mental health as well. “Our brains are incredible machines, and even they need a chance to disconnect and recover,” says Doman. “Giving yourself time for rest, disconnecting, friends, creative outlets, and other things that fill your cup is the cornerstone of keeping your machine well oiled.”
How Employers Can Best Support Their Remote Employees’ Mental Health
It can be hard for employers to know exactly what their employees need without being able to see them every day, but it isn’t news that employees need the companies they work for to respect and support their mental health. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report, 66% of Gen Z employees say investment in mental health will improve company culture. Unfortunately, not all companies are addressing this issue head-on. “Giving employees grace to be the imperfect humans that they are is thankfully currently happening,” says Doman. “But it's a slow burn, and not everyone is bought into the idea.”
According to experts, the companies that do recognize the full humanity of their employees and the importance of mental health are proving to be more successful at recruitment, retention, and output, which should come as no surprise. “Of course we want people to work hard, to feel connected to their role, to have passion and purpose, but not at the expense of their mental health,” says Doman. “It literally makes no sense to hire people, work them so hard that they crack, and then they quit or go off on short-term disability from a mental breakdown.”
But even at companies with terrific work cultures, it is not a manager’s job to be a therapist (even if they sometimes feel like one). While an open-door policy might seem warm and empathic, maintaining healthy boundaries, respecting one’s personal life, and allowing your employees to have normal emotions that ebb and flow is often a more productive structure for everyone. Additionally, incentivizing personal growth can be an extremely beneficial tool for goal-setting and team building. As one suggestion, Preston would like to see more companies integrate self-awareness and self-regulation into employee evaluations. “In my ideal world, it somehow becomes part of your performance review,” she explains. “How well are you managing your time? How well are you managing your priorities? How well are you managing your work-life balance? As opposed to ‘Wow, this person is always in the office till eight o'clock. They must be really committed to the job.’”
Companies also need to recognize that when it comes to their employees’ mental health, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Yoga on Friday afternoons leaves out employees who aren’t physically able to do yoga, never mind the employees who were just given an urgent, last-minute project. To really support their employees’ mental health, companies need to be willing to address the root causes of burnout, stress, and job dissatisfaction, as opposed to just putting a bandaid on it. And on the topic of false urgency, which is a big contributor to burnout, Preston advises all companies and the teams within those companies to get on the same page as soon as possible. “To some people, something might feel like a five-alarm fire, while to others it's barely an ember,” she explains. “Urgency, and its different levels, really needs to be defined by each team and each company.”
Ultimately, employers are responsible for setting the pace of the workday, recognizing and celebrating when employees have a good work-life balance and modeling healthy boundaries. And employees themselves need to take the lead when it comes to creating routines, structure, and balance. “I think the workplaces that are thriving are setting a culture that says, ‘We want you to be happy. We want you to be successful,’” says Preston. “You need to be in the driver's seat of setting yourself up for success, and your manager will be the co-pilot.”
Thanks for reading this far. Now it’s your turn to do the talking. Let us know how hybrid work is working (or not working) for you. You can find us in all the usual places: Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.