Is working from home fueling the loneliness epidemic?
Working from home, now a common theme, has led to both positive and negative outcomes. One of the many ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in the number of employees working from home. After working through the pandemic, many people realized their jobs could be done from a remote location. Technology improved because of the quarantine, and video conferencing has become more common. As a result of this working-from-home reality, many people’s social skills and ability to interact with others has been affected. Overall, working from home has been detrimental to the mental health of employees in America.
People are becoming more socially uncomfortable because they are not forced to make small talk or read social cues and gestures. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella said, “digital technology should not be a substitute for human connection.” People need in-person interactions to meet new people and satisfy their social needs. Often on calls, we believe we are practicing social skills, but it is far from the same as face-to-face conversations. People do not have to worry about gestures and movements when they are behind the screen communicating. Many mental health professionals have recommended that fears such as social anxiety are best treated with exposure to social interactions. Social anxiety is prominent in the workplace giving people daily opportunities to combat their fears and stressors. However, because work has been moved to online or remote many people are becoming more shut off from others, allowing their anxieties to heighten.
Workers are no longer forced to separate work from home life, leaving the boundary between their personal lives and work blurry. Many drawbacks of working from home became evident during the pandemic. Employees working from home find it hard to separate work from their personal lives largely because both occur in the same place and sometimes at the same time. Without clearly separating these two areas of our lives, many people are finding less time for themselves. Because people are constantly working and there is no separation, some find it hard to have a social life to battle loneliness. New employees who are working from home are also feeling more distant and secluded because they are not meeting their coworkers and colleagues. New workers need social interactions with their companies to feel less isolated and more included in the company culture.
One could argue that the benefits of working from home outweigh the negative social effects it causes. Productivity is increased for some; however, the lack of social exposure is detrimental to the workers' mental health. I believe the mental health and well-being of employees are far more important than the slight increase in productivity that companies are seeing. Employers need to create a healthy balance between the two work styles to reduce the stress of the employees as well as increase socialization.
Employers need to provide social events for remote workers and give in-person work opportunities to counter the loneliness experienced by teleworkers. Employees are feeling more isolated and separated from their social life because of the lack of balance and exposure to in-person interactions. A possible solution could be a hybrid model blending in-person and remote work. The mental health of employees needs to be a priority for employers.
By: Madison Schaller
Madison is from San Diego and plans on graduating from San Diego State University in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in marketing. For the Fall 2022 semester, she is a digital intern for a PR agency, Bay Bird Inc.