The Philippine unemployment rate reached an all-time high of 17.7%, the highest ever on record since 1987 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to close as early as March 2020. This translates to 7.3 million jobless Filipinos. For most of us who have been lucky not to be laid off and/or required to commute to work and struggle with limited public transportation options, we find ourselves working from home (WFH).
However favorable the arrangement may seem, it still has its disadvantages. Mental health advocate and One Mind co-founder Garen Staglin wrote on Forbes that individuals should be wary of the mental health implications of WFH, citing isolation and burnout to be the top contributors to risk.
The hazards of working from home
With all of the stress caused by the paradigm shift, you can’t expect your health to come out of it unscathed if not addressed quickly. Work exhaustion and stress might lead to issues concerning mental health problems, physical fatigue, and more serious illness in the long term.
Learning as early as now how to identify when you’re not feeling mentally well and addressing it quickly is critical to maintaining overall well-being during these times. Especially as the World Health Organization (WHO) recently said that there is no returning to the ‘old normal’ any time soon.
WFH arrangements, and the stresses that accompany them, seem like they’ll be sticking around for a while. So to help you all out with managing it, and preventing damages to your health, here are 10 common stress-inducing problems often encountered while working from home and sustainable fixes for them:
1. Work Distractions
WFH arrangement brings about a lot of work distractions. Prior to this set up, our homes were not a place for work but for relaxation, entertainment, and chores. Not everyone has a designated work station at home and, if you’re like me, you would’ve found yourself struggling to find a suitable place at home to work without distractions.
Designating a work area will not only make you organize how you do your work but it will send a signal to your brain that there is a place to work and a place to do other things at home. Invest in a high quality, comfortable, and ergonomically sound chair to eliminate back pains. Avoid using your bed or the sofa also as an alternative workplace.
You need to create a physical environment that is conducive to a work mindset. Choose a space in your home where the lighting is good, noise level low and has minimal distractions, and consider your physical comfort.
You may also consider adding an indoor plant to your working table. Some studies even suggest that active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work.
2. Laziness and Procrastination
Since we are accustomed to relaxing at home, the WFH arrangement provides a path for laziness and procrastination to some. In a study investigating the personality traits of home-based workers that make them lazy or procrastinate, scientists found that there are personality traits that make people more prone to become procrastinators than others.
It also found that people whose personalities fall under ‘procrastinators’ are more likely to waste time instead of working, and that a lack of job satisfaction and feelings of incompetence are some of the red flags.
However, there is a simple way to fight laziness and procrastination in general if ever you find yourself in the situation. Starting your day with a shower is said to be an effective way to start the work day on a high note.
While we know that our computer is just a reach away from our bed, taking a shower, getting dressed (even in casual attire), or combing your hair can send signals to your brain that it’s not a weekend, you’re not sick, and you’re ready for the day ahead.
The usual perception that WFH is a day-long pajama fest should be debunked. Getting yourself ready by taking a shower before starting work from home is an important part of self-care and can impact how you proceed with your day.
3. Unstructured Work Day
Stick to a schedule. Just like how you did a good job in the office following certain schedules and deadlines, you need to determine how you will attack your day. By knowing what are urgent tasks during the day versus tasks that are also important but can be done within the week or so.
Determining this prior to starting the day will also give you the time to reflect on high importance tasks that would need your focus and attention at your most productive and attentive time of the day. This may also mean being able to squeeze into your schedule healthy habits such as exercise and mindful breaks.
4. Prevent Dehydration
Placing a water bottle within your reach at your workstation can help you prevent dehydration during work time. Make sure that you are hydrated and that you meet the minimum 8 glasses a day. Dehydration may lead to fatigue which may affect your overall alertness and productivity during your work day.
5. Unhealthy Eating Habits
Being at home all the time makes it easy to choose eating in front of your computer while you carry on working. However, choosing to sit down and have a proper meal with your family and loved ones is the healthier choice.
Other than choosing to eat healthy by stocking up your kitchen with healthy snacks and meals, choosing to sit down with your family to eat brings back the tradition of conversations over a family meal.
Although sitting down is not the reason for the nourishment you need to get consistent energy for the work day, the connection and belongingness that you get from your family is a form of self-care that you also need.
6. Physical Fatigue
Contrary to what most people think, taking our work home can cause us a lot of physical fatigue. Even though we’re in the comfort of our own homes, it doesn’t mean that we are not entitled to take a break and get a breather from time to time.
Life in quarantine is stressful enough not to take a break from working from home. Take Japan, for example, under Japanese Law, breaks are sacred and standby counts as work. The Japanese believe that if a worker’s body and mind is fully rested, more can be accomplished and is less prone to mistakes and accidents at work.
Try to get up from your chair every hour or so, take a deep breath, meditate, or go out into your backyard to get some fresh air. This rest from the ultraviolet rays your computer is emitting is also healthier for your eyes.
Just be careful though not to turn your break into a Netflix marathon or hours-long nap. Ensure that you’re mindful of your time allotment for your breaks and that the activities you choose will contribute to giving your body and mind their needed rest.
7. Social Isolation
In Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, love and belongingness is among the third of the human needs. The third level is social which involves feelings of belongingness and interpersonal relationships with others.
It is in our nature as humans to crave for social connections. Even in the absence of physical interaction with our co-workers, we need to maintain a healthy social connection with them because it not only improves our overall productivity but also aids in keeping us motivated to work.
To avoid misunderstandings during this new normal set-up, avoid scheduling back-to-back conference calls. Virtual meetings scheduled almost at the same time may lead to miscommunication and may result in more mistakes.
It may be advised to turn your video on during virtual meetings especially if you are the speaker. People tend to connect better when they see people they’re talking to. However, make sure that you and your surroundings are presentable.
8. Unknown Work Time Limits
Traditional office settings provided us with a stop clock that tells us when to clean out our desk and turn off our computers after a day’s work. But while we’re working from home, sometimes we have a hard time establishing boundaries with work and personal time.
Oftentimes, when there are still emails to answer or tasks to do, you continue working and working without noticing what time it is. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean that you have to spend most of your day working. While working your ass off will impress your bosses, there will come a point when you also need to set time limits and know when to shutdown your computer and mute your work phone.
9. Demanding Bosses
Working from home has put managers in a blind spot that makes monitoring employees challenging. Physically seeing subordinates working is much easier than having less contact with them. Because of this lessened contact, supervisors may feel that they have less control of their employees’ outputs.
In an effort to maintain productivity and efficiency, bosses may end up demanding more from the employees even during off-hours, holidays, or weekends. Late-night calls and emails become more often and all work seems to be tagged as “urgent” and needs immediate resolution.
Given the current public health emergency, health should be our top priority. We should try to achieve as much work-life balance as possible and not succumb to work stress. Our employers should be the first to advocate a healthy and sustainable WFH arrangement and protocols. Below are some quick tips for managers to keep a healthy WFH setup between you and your employees:
- Try as much as possible not to communicate during lunch time and give this hour to your employees so they can have a proper meal peacefully.
- Clearly communicate deliverables and deadlines to employees.
- Put off non-urgent work for the next day.
- Don’t communicate work assignments during off-hours or weekends.
- Remind yourself that everyone is in an unusual situation with limited resources.
- Be the first to advocate healthy work-from-home environment
10. Forgetting Self-Care
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so don’t feel guilty for allotting time for yourselves. When it comes to self-care, people unnecessarily perceive it as not being ‘productive’. But lacking sleep and exercise and eating poorly shouldn’t be hailed as productivity, but rather seen as more neglectful.
With the current WFH arrangement, we should be able to do more for ourselves given that we are able to cut down time from our strenuous commute from home to the office. Let’s not make an excuse out of ‘too much work’ for not taking care of ourselves. Having time for self-care is not selfish. If anything, you’re actually doing it for the people you love.
Being in isolation and staying at home has been stressful already for most of us. We’re all trying our best to achieve work-life balance despite the current situation and the bad news that keeps bombarding us daily.
We should try to be more accepting and forgiving of each other especially during this unprecedented time. Achieving work-life balance is hard enough when working in an office all day, but it can be just as difficult when life and work are happening in the same space. So as if we haven’t stressed it enough: Make taking care of yourself a priority, despite the demands of our circumstances.
Got some de-stressing tips to share with the Community? Head over to the Pinoy Fitness Community Facebook Group and spark a conversation!