The impact of new ways of working on the mental health of employees

The health crisis and successive incarcerations have changed the organization of work. Significant changes have taken place in just two years, sometimes at the expense of employees’ mental health. HR departments are beginning to fully measure the psychosocial risks of high-dose telecommuting.

Teleworking: achievements, pitfalls

The generalization of telecommuting has enabled many workers to improve their quality of life: some prefer the flexibility offered by this new way of working, others the reduction of physical fatigue and the improvement of well-being. But practice has somewhat preceded the reflection and the majority of stakeholders agree that the current organization of companies is insufficiently adapted to these new circumstances.† If a “return to normal” looms, we may wonder what the norm covers now: because for most HRDs, hybridity has made its way and there will be no turning back.

So it is a matter for companies to find the right mix, but also the means to ensure the psychological well-being of employees when they are remote. If the loss of social ties was early identified as a major problem for organizations dealing with sudden and massive telecommuting, we now realize the consequences of this loss of ties for a certain number of employees who do not tolerate isolation well. You can definitely feel isolated in the office and well surrounded, alone, working from home: but it is not just about individuals. The circumstances in which one works at home, the relationships with colleagues, the manager and especially the time one spends in front of the screen, are all causes that can cause a situation of psychological distress.

Disconnect, is it disconnect?

When we talk about the pros and cons of telecommuting, we usually focus on technical and practical aspects, or wonder about productivity. What has been less talked about is the potentially harmful effects of telecommuting on mental health. However, everyone has experienced it: when work invades the private sphere, it is not easy to draw a strict line between professional and personal life. However, this breach is insidious because it is difficult to regulate for companies that don’t always know how to support their employees remotely. Especially since digital presenteeism extends to our daily practice, to the time everyone spends on their emails and personal messages, to screen consumption outside of work, to the health risks associated with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

The right to disconnect is a necessary but insufficient safeguard: a much stricter framework for telecommuting is needed, not in terms of digital surveillance, a source of stress for employees, but rather good practice. Indeed, some managers have fallen into the trap of micro-management and continuous reporting, confused by a new way of working remotely, and often little or not at all trained in the exercise. The latter remain the most reluctant to telecommute: only 48% of them are in favor of it (vs. 54% in 2019) and 43% believe that remote working has complicated their position as supervisors.† These difficulties in managing can lead to situations of suffering, both for employees and for the managers themselves.

Go the distance, or not

For some, as the saying goes, work is health. Or rather: going to work is healthy. Simply because the social bond contributes to our psychological well-being and our balance. Relationships with colleagues also make work a life experience, fruitful with all the signs it brings. For example, telecommuting can amputate the richest part of the employee experience, related to the emotional. Hence the difficulty for many to enjoy working remotely. Hence the need, and also the urgency, to implement the tools and processes that are adapted to this new work organization and to the new risks it poses to the mental health of workers.

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