Telework & Well-being Integration: Emotional Health

January 09, 2020

This resource is intended for use by well-being practitioners, work-life and telework program managers, leaders at all levels, and other stakeholders interested in championing flexibility and shaping the future of work.

A comprehensive approach to address workplace stress includes reducing its root causes through the use of flexible work policies. It’s not surprising that in some cases telework positively affects emotional health, while in others blurred boundaries and poor communication lead to greater stress.

ADVANTAGES

  • Lower stress and burnout
  • Potential to lower risk of depression
  • Assistance in managing mental health issues

CHALLENGES

  • High levels of stress for mobile workers who frequently travel

NEUTRAL IMPACT

  • Work-life integration—employees report improved balance but also blurred boundaries

Stress

A study of more than 19,000 employees from nine different companies found that stress and burnout were lower among workers engaged in all types of flexible work arrangements, including telework.10 However, while those who telework at home tend to experience decreased stress, mobile workers who frequently travel and work from various places report high levels of stress; these employees are more likely to work longer hours and on weekends, compared to their in-office or home-based peers.11 

Work-life harmony

With better control of their lives, teleworkers can experience improved work-life integration. Nearly eight in ten U.S. employees agree or strongly agree that employees who telework are better able to achieve a balance between work and family. At the same time, 70% of respondents in the same study reported that technology blurred boundaries by bringing work into their personal lives; and 48% report that teleworking creates more work-family conflicts.11 The value of work-life harmony can be seen in a global survey by PGI, where 60% of remote workers said that if they could, they would leave their current job for a full-time remote position at the same pay rate.

Employees with better work-life harmony have better overall health, fewer minor health problems, fewer signs of depression, lower stress levels and fewer sleep problems.13

Mental health

Having the option to work remotely, even for just a few hours a month, could lower one’s risk of depression.12 Furthermore, working from home in a comfortable environment with the necessary tools and medications can help those who experience a mental health issue successfully manage it. Telework can also provide the flexibility needed to obtain treatment while maintaining productivity. 

A 2016 randomized field trial with longitudinal data of 867 IT workers at a Fortune 500 company found that employees who have more control over their workdays experienced benefits to emotional well-being, including lowered perceived stress, psychological distress and burnout, and with no cost to work output.v

Learn More

Employer Practices for Integrating Emotional Well-being and Telework

Well-being Benefits & Tech Solutions

  • Make mental health and emotional well-being support available to employees regardless of their physical location through vendors like Big Health, Happify, Journey Meditation, Joyable, Lyra Health and Sibly; learn about the latest solutions through the Business Group’s Health Innovations Forum.
  • Use communication and engagement platforms to create a one-stop shop for all employees to understand available benefits, including mental health services and work-family benefits.
  • Use video conferencing when discussing a challenging topic or delivering difficult news.
  • Make yoga or tai chi classes, which promote stress reduction and physical activity, available to teleworkers through a fitness subsidy and/or online classes.

New Employee Habits to Encourage

  • Create separate work and home spaces; although not feasible for everyone, being in an office or creating a separate space that is only used for work can be a physical reminder of work-life boundaries.
  • Establish a daily habit to indicate the workday has ended (e.g., changing outfits, shutting down the computer, stepping outside).
  • Take breaks to relax, recharge and meditate (e.g., listen to a muscle relaxation podcast).
  • Communicate with family about the need to work without disruptions.
  • Don’t use telework as a substitute for child care.

Next Steps

Review your company’s current portfolio of mental health services and identify gaps in offerings for teleworkers. Create an action plan to ensure virtual access is available.

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