#parent | #kids | Mental health expert discusses psychological impact of working from home for extended period of time

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) For several weeks, many have transitioned to working from home due to COVID-19. Working from home for an extended period can have a psychological impact on employees, research shows.
Joining Michael Schwanke Thursday to discuss the issue is psychologist Dr. Paul White who recently wrapped up a four-week study on the impact of working from home and the challenges employers and employees face.
Michael Schwanke
Joining me now, psychologist Dr. Paul White who we have talked to before. He specializes in the workplace and workplace relationships. He’s written a book about it and now, Dr. white, we find ourselves in uncharted territory.
Paul White
Absolutely, we sure do.
Michael Schwanke
So what are some of the biggest challenges, because I know you’ve done this survey or looked at this survey, what are some of the biggest challenges the workplace is facing right now?
Paul White
We just completed a research study following a group of 50 people across the country for the last four weeks, finding out what it was like for them to work from home and the challenges there. And, you know, while there are positives, probably the biggest is staying connected and being able to figure out how to communicate well and, especially in team kinds of issues. Often one-on-one communication goes okay when you have to coordinate with people. It’s a different kind of communication where you’re watching yourself, You can’t watch everybody else. And also the delays in communication from the technology creates problems about pauses or talking on top of each other, that kind of thing.

Michael Schwanke
We use the Zoom app here and we have those big group meetings as most people in this building are remote, but, communication is just really tricky. It’s just not the same, is it?
Paul White
No, it’s not. and the other issue, when people are working remotely, you don’t have those sort of spontaneous chance encounters walking by somebody’s office or seeing them in the break room or whatever that you stop and chat about things, about how things are going. So one of the things we found through our research is that you really need to be proactive in connecting with other people, that if you don’t, you just don’t ever connect with them because you’re walking by your video screen or whatever. So there’s that aspect and also most of the communication going on is work-related and, you know, we’re people as well as employees and workers and we have lives and there’s a lot going on in our lives right now, and if you only talk about work it sort of denigrates down to feeling like just a production unit and, “I’m only concerned about getting things done.” So we really encourage teams and people to take time to connect personally about, “How is it going being home alone?” or “How is the home schooling going with the kids” or, “What did you do this weekend?” So there’s more of a personal element developed as well as the work communication.

Michael Schwanke
There is a lot of pressure on people working from home, as you mentioned a lot of them have children. They’re trying to school them as well. In your research here, i’m reading some of your notes, there’s a level of anxiety and I want to talk about the mental health aspect of this for both of those left in the workplace and those working from home.
Paul White
Yeah, one of the big issues is sort of the instability of what’s going on out there. which leads to an unpredictability so we don’t know what’s happening next week or in two weeks or next month. And most of us don’t like that. We like to plan, we like structure and routine. And so it creates a sort of overarching anxiety or angst about, “I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t know how to make a decision,” and it just creates an unsettledness for people. You know when you’re anxious you don’t think clearly, you know, you’re distracted and don’t get as much done. And if we can sort of help manage that to some degree, it can really help overall.

Michael Schwanke
You mentioned, we talked a little bit about it, but (let’s talk about ) healthy habits. And you mentioned making sure to reach out to people on topics outside of work.
Paul White
One of the things we found in this group that we monitored over four weeks is that, those who had less anxiety, those that had a more positive experience did some very basic things that we all know to do, like get adequate sleep, eat healthy, get some exercise, take breaks, do something fun occasionally and stay connected. And the people that sort of do that regularly do better at managing this difficult time than those who don’t. If you just work all the time, don’t stay connected, don’t do anything fun, you know, you’re going to get burned out and things aren’t going to go well.
Michael Schwanke
Dr. White, one last question for you: Do you see this pandemic once we make it through it, changing the workplace environment permanently?
Paul White
I do to some degree for sure. I think, is it going to be a totally new normal? Maybe? Maybe not. But I think one of the things we’ve found, we asked people what was positive about working from home, and there was an overwhelming majority that said, “I really like not having to commute and all the time it takes to get places and also getting dressed for work is different from throwing on a t-shirt and jeans.” I mean you’re looking pretty good there, Michael, but I don’t think you go around the house like that. And so people really like the free time and also time with family, and i think that in combination with the understanding that the productivity hasn’t gone down that much in a lot of cases, people are going to want to work from home at least occasionally, like one day a week or two days a week or something like that, which is going to create a challenge from a supervisor scheduling point of view, fairness point, logistics of office space and things like that, I think. So there will be a transition here, but I think we’re going to move that way to some degree at least.




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