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Top drivers of poor mental health at work

US businesses continue to operate remotely due to shelter-in-place orders, and many of those remote workers are living alone or attempting to balance work and family life.

This is a difficult situation for all of us, but the collective impact of COVID-19 may amplify mental health illnesses. Leaders must take this opportunity to bring empathy into focus.


We know that there is a significant association between social isolation, loneliness, and poor mental health. Humans need human connection for physical and mental wellbeing. When employees fail to make connections at work, they may feel isolated or left out. Remote workers may have an even more difficult time connecting, due to the physical barrier of distance.

  • Encourage socialization outside of regular meetings. Remote happy hours, competitions, or “employee” masterclasses are all fun ways to get employees engaged.

Lack of mentor

All members of an office experience the stresses and pressures of COVID-19 differently. Chronic untreated stress in the workplace is a huge contributing factor to workplace burnout. Having a mentor that’s “been there, done that” is a great way to reduce the tension felt by more vulnerable personality types. In fact, mentorship has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve the mental health of both mentor and mentee, according to a recent study.

  • Link up more senior team members with newer members of the team to help ease anxiety and uncertainty.

Mounting workload/pressure causing work-related stress

Having “too much work to do” and “not enough time to do it” is certainly a universal struggle. To combat the stress from a large workload, many employees spend time communicating about their ongoing projects and priority list. While this can be a helpful way to reduce incoming additional work, it may prove more challenging for employees to communicate their stressors in a remote environment.

Lack of job security

There is no doubt that this is a challenging time for both businesses and families. Many workers are being displaced at this time, creating a collective anxiety and a reduced sense of security. Lack of job security is linked to both depression and anxiety among employees. Some individuals (particularly women) engage in coping strategies like socialization to reduce their stress around this topic. However, social interaction can be challenging for remote workers.

  • Be honest and transparent about your company’s situation at this time. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep, and overcommunicate about the ways in which COVID-19 is impacting your business.

Poor work-life balance

Workers with long commutes may spend a greater total hours at work than at home. Stress at work affects productivity and engagement, and stress that spills into the home affects overall happiness. Long working hours may affect an employees ability to spend time with their families, practice self care, and sleep. Remote workers may find work-life balance particularly challenging with no physical separation between work and home-life, especially those with school-aged children. Additionally, remote workers may find themselves working more hours than usual to prove to their superiors that they are reliable.

  • Be understanding of changing circumstances. Be clear that it’s acceptable and expected when an employee needs to take their child to the doctor, go to the grocery store, or take a mental health day.


Employees may feel empowered to take time off or reduce their work load when experiencing a physical health problem, like feeling ill, or twisting an ankle. However, many employees with mental health disorders may suffer in silence for fear or retaliation. While there have been major strides in changing the way mental health is viewed in the workplace, there is still significant room for improvement when it comes to reducing the stigma attached to it.

  • Lead by example. If you regularly attend therapy, let it be known. Employees won’t feel empowered to take a mental health day if their managers have never done the same.

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