July 18, 2022

askST Jobs: I feel mentally exhausted working from home. What can I do?

By brit

In this series, manpower correspondent Calvin Yang offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: I feel mentally exhausted working from home as it is hard to switch off. What can I do?

A: You are not alone. This is one of the big downsides of working from home – being unable to properly “knock off” even after working hours, and finding it hard to avoid replying to late e-mail messages from the higher-ups.

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were often specific physical domains where we apportioned our mental faculties. This may have led to a conditioning of sorts where we felt a certain way at work and where we felt a certain way at home,” says Mr Praveen Nair, a psychologist and senior consultant at Raven Counselling and Consultancy.

But with hybrid work, the lines between the workplace and home tend to blur and this has put pressure on many workers.

For instance, an operations manager whom The Straits Times interviewed previously monitors performance trends and conducts meetings from his dining table. In between work tasks, he would grab quick meals and look after his active toddler while his accountant wife does video calls.

He would log on close to midnight to clear e-mails, sometimes working until 2am. Being out of the office, he felt the need to be more plugged in and found it hard to switch off when work messages appeared on his phone.

It is a plight that is being played out in countless other homes for the past two years.

While the flexibility of working from home does have its benefits, one may find himself working longer hours than usual, recent studies have found. This may put a strain on mental health in the long run.

An online poll of 1,200 respondents by The Straits Times in November 2020 found that 71 per cent have felt more stressed since they started working from home.

A more recent study of 1076 workers commissioned by the newspaper in January found that one in two Singapore employees has been grappling with longer working hours since the Covid-19 pandemic began two years ago.

The top reasons for the extended hours are difficulties drawing boundaries with work-from-home arrangements, increased tasks such as more paperwork, and covering for colleagues who have quit.

The findings are not surprising, according to observers. In other parts of the world, studies have found that Covid-19 has disrupted job schedules, with people more likely to work on weekends and outside of nine-to-five hours.

A relatively quick fix is to go back to the office more often.