How to reduce stress and maintain a work-life balance while working from home

Dr Madeleine Petzer, Senior Lecturer in HRM at Liverpool John Moores University:

The Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 Stress: Are we coping? report found that 74% of people in the UK have at some point felt overwhelmed and unable to cope with stress. How people react to stress is unpredictable and unique. It can negatively affect an individual’s physical and psychological health as well as their efficiency and effectiveness. If not dealt with, stress can lead to ill health, burnout and in some cases, psychological and physiological issues.

The CIPD’s annual Good Work Index report shows that as the COVID-19 crisis was about to hit the UK, the impact of work on mental wellbeing was already a cause for concern. The survey of more than 6,000 workers found that the number of people saying work has a positive impact on their mental health had fallen from 44% to 35%. Of those who’d experienced anxiety in the last year, 69% said their job was a contributing factor. Of those who’d experienced depression, 58% said the same was true.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, it was easier to distinguish work-related stress from personal stress. Now that many employees are working from home, the boundaries are more blurred. Employers need to recognise the additional stress individuals are under. The CIPD’s Health and Well-being at Work report shows that mental ill health is the major cause of long-term absence from work. Considering the risk of COVID-19, it is important that employers support individuals as much as possible to manage their stress levels.

The impact of rapid change

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the significant change of pace, stress has increased for many people. The CIPD’s Good Work Index snapshot survey, carried out following the COVID-19 outbreak, confirms this. Forty-three per cent of workers with a mental health condition and 29% of those with anxiety said the pandemic has contributed to or worsened their condition.  

Change in itself can cause stress as it introduces a variety of uncertainty. The level of uncertainty that individuals are facing due to COVID-19 has increased substantially.

COVID-19 has brought about very rapid change giving us little time to adjust. It was less than a week from announcement to realisation of the closure of schools and lockdown. This in itself causes a lot of stress and emotional turmoil.

Lack of control

An important COVID-19 related stressor is the limited control we have over our environments and lives. In a few days, we lost control over:

  • how we work

  • how we shop

  • how we exercise