Mental health of employees impacted by work from home arrangements

A psychological expert wants employers to look into fine-tuning flexible work arrangements to help mitigate mental health issues.
By: | February 5, 2024

While many would tout flexible work arrangements as something that has helped improve work-life balance, optimise time spent, and reduce commuting time, critics have suggested that the concept has contributed to a negative impact on mental health, one which is becoming apparent in Malaysia.

Professor Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj Chandrasekaran, Malaysian Mental Health Association President and a consultant psychiatrist, has opined that the work-from-home transition has caused more negative issues for employees.

“As the country navigated the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the spotlight intensified on the various implications that working from home introduced to an individual’s psychological well-being,” said Dr Chandrasekaran, reported The Sun.

Using the example of a study conducted by the Integrated Benefits Institute, a non-profit research organisation headquartered in Oakland, California, Dr Chandrasekaran shared that 40% of employees working remotely full-time and 38% who were engaged in hybrid work arrangements exhibited a higher likelihood of having symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Symptoms such as decreased motivation, social isolation and fatigue became prevalent among those working from home.

“Contrary to the belief that solitude promotes calmness, remote employees experienced heightened stress hormones in their bodies,” he said, sharing how studies have established a strong connection between loneliness and disrupted sleep patterns, with lonely individuals being more susceptible to sleep fragmentation, a weakened immune system and increased inflammation and mental health issues exacerbated by loneliness like burnout, clinical depression, and generalised anxiety disorder. Employees with pre-existing mental health conditions or employees who are extroverts are most at risk of these issues.

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Dr Chandrasekaran emphasised shifting the focus from mere flexibility to creating a conducive workspace that nurtures work-life balance. Calling employers critical in safeguarding the mental well-being of their workforce, he underscored the importance of monitoring the mental health symptoms of their employees. This includes conducting regular check-ins, fostering open communication channels, and providing resources for mental health support.