When Zoom Is The Workplace: Facts About Remote Work & Mental Health
By Ben Aston ·
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (Covid-19) a pandemic on March 11, 2020, many employees have been working from home. For the American communication technology company, Zoom Video Communications, this situation led to an explosion from 10 million to over 200 million daily participants within three months (Source).
Despite Zoom stepping up to create a new conception of the workplace, the fact that workers are now restricted to their homes creates significant problems linked to mental health issues. One of the issues that have come to the fore is the idea of “Zoom Burnout.”
In the Zoom workplace era, managers will need to start rethinking the idea of mental health issues in the workplace. This article looks at how the new workplace, facilitated by Zoom meetings, may exacerbate the mental health issues that already existed before the pandemic. We offer ten tips for improving mental health in a workplace where Zoom meetings connect employees.
Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in the Workplace
Since the workplace can be considered a microcosm of the society where employees come from, it seems prudent to start by looking at the prevalence of mental health issues in the general population.
The WHO reports that “Globally, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression, one of the leading causes of disability, with many of these people also suffering from anxiety symptoms.” This costs the global economy “US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity” (Source).
If the Zoom workplace is introducing its own unique set of mental health challenges, it adds to challenges that have already been in existence for many years.
For instance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “nearly 1 in 5 US adults aged 18 or older (18.3% or 44.7 million people), reported any mental illness in 2016. Besides, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious” (Source).
In 2019, The American Institute of Stress stated that 23% of workers reported high levels of stress in the workplace (Source). The CDC adds that “depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time, and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time” (Source).
For people managing people, the numbers above are a wake-up call that there is a need to come up with strategies to assist employees faced with mental health challenges. If not attended to, job performance and productivity will suffer.
Also, mental health issues can result in poor communication, a lack of engagement with one’s work, and can negatively impact daily functioning and physical capability (Source).
Common Health Issues in the Workplace
While there are numerous types of mental health issues in the workplace, here are a few common ones identified by Harvard Health Publishing:
Depression: Employees suffering from depression may be nervous, short-tempered, and fidgety, withdraw from activities, be passive during meetings, and generally fail to meet the demands of the job at hand.
Bipolar Disorder: Presents in employees as dramatic mood swings, from extreme excitement to depression. Even though employees who have bipolar disorder may look busy, they may be disruptive and unproductive.
The judgment of employees who have bipolar disorder can become questionable. For instance, an employee may send an email with confidential information to people who should not access such information.
Anxiety Disorders: Can be identified among employees who are often tired, struggle to concentrate, are restless, and are excessively worried about their ability to do the job. Such employees may become needy and require constant assurance that their performance is acceptable.
ADHD: Could result in employees generally failing to accomplish the tasks at hand. This inability may result from a failure to manage tasks, refusing follow instructions, and quarrels with workmates.
Health Risk Factors Linked to a Zoom Workplace
Writing for The Washington Post, Joel Achenbach reports that a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that “nearly half of the people in the United States feel the Coronavirus is harming their mental health.” The same article notes that, for many people, the realization that several people are dying at the hands of the virus daily is a significant source of anxiety. Those who have lost a loved one to the pandemic also have an increased likelihood of suffering from mental health issues (Source).
Because people don’t suddenly switch off and become different individuals when they are at work, these issues that The Washington Post reports are likely to extend to the workplace. Zoom interactions are already happening in an environment where employees are anxious and often without stable and consistent support that they would typically receive when working within a co-located environment. This presents a new set of mental health challenges which we look at below.
Lack of Support
In the traditional work environment, managers interact with employees frequently in the same environment. In a workplace where interaction is mostly through Zoom, managers may not know how to support employees working from home. The managers themselves have only started to adjust to the new reality that is a Zoom workplace.
Writing for Forbes, Rachel Montañez notes that the Zoom meetings lead to a loss of the “typical gaze and facial expressions like attention, irritability, connection, and disagreement” (Source). What this does is that it leaves managers and other workmates with no clues that could assist them in identifying the signs of mental health issues among subordinates or co-workers.
When employees are in the workplace, they can easily share resources and do not need to worry about having great backgrounds when attending meetings. The Zoom workplace can leave individual employees apprehensive about their living arrangements, which they may believe that others could judge them for. This could present unnecessary pressure, leading to mental health challenges.
When employees don’t have the required resources to accomplish their work, their productivity may be affected. It may be difficult for managers to make sure that all employees have the same resources that they are used to working with. This will inevitably affect the productivity of employees, resulting in mental health issues. Some employees may also not have a conducive environment to work from; they may have issues with devices needed to access the Zoom platform.
Constant Exposure to Online Meetings
Being regularly exposed to online meetings is something that many employees were not used to before the Covid-19 situation forced them to work from home. As something new, this is a situation that is likely to result in some mental health challenges.
Writing for the Psycreg.org, a website that publishes mental health stories, Nikka Celeste notes that apps like Zoom do not only “drain the life and energy out of us, but they also beat our bodies down” (Source).
Highfive, a conferencing firm, conducted a study that found that “59% of people feel more self-aware when they are on camera than they do in their off-camera life. Nearly half (48%) of people worry more about how they look on a video call than what they will talk about during the call” (Source).
Challenges with Reading the Situation
Added to the technological strain that comes with working on a computer for hours, human social interactions also suffer when participating in an online meeting. One of the areas in which online meetings hamper social interactions is the inability to read facial expressions and body language easily.
Without the usual cues that come with face-to-face meetings, meeting participants could easily worry about things that they would not have been worried about in a traditional co-located environment.
For instance, in a Zoom meeting, it could be difficult to see whether participants are paying attention or not. Someone could be looking at the screen but still reading an email while other employees are talking.
10 Tips for Improving Mental Health in the Workplace
In the unprecedented era of the Zoom workplace, employers and employees need to take a step back and reconsider mental health in the place of work.
For managers, knowing the proper ways to tackle employees’ mental health issues is as important as making sure they are productive. Here are some ways for managers to properly handle the Zoom workplace-linked mental health issues:
1. Identify work-related mental risk factors linked to Zoom
Mental health issues in the traditional workplace have been known for some years. However, the ones associated with working from home using video conferencing apps are relatively new.
Employees may not be clear about what is expected from them during these interactions. Therefore, the manager has to provide clarity around expectations and goals and give employees adequate support to do their work.
2. Identify symptoms of mental health problems of employees working from home
Eye redness, lack of focus, saying nothing during an entire meeting, and looking exhausted, are symptoms of employees who have become affected by the constant virtual meetings. Managers should look out for these signs in their employees, and provide solutions as swiftly as possible.
Managers should also introduce smaller and one-on-one meetings for employees who cannot seem to voice out their own opinions or ideas in Zoom meetings. This could allow employees to voice their challenges and give the manager a better chance to detect other problems.
3. Develop a positive Zoom workplace
Feeling valued is one of the most critical needs of humans. Thus, managers need to indicate that all employees play an essential role in the business’s success. This can be done by ensuring that the employees have all the resources they need to do their work from home and they are fully involved during meetings. No employees should be left out so that they hear about changes from others.
4. Address mental health issues no matter the cause
Since there is a grey line between the workplace and the home in the Zoom workplace, people managing people need to realize the importance of dealing with mental health issues without necessarily focusing on what caused them. Also, an employee with mental health challenges at home will likely bring these issues to the workplace. Ensuring that employees know where they can get assistance is vital.
5. Identify forms of communication that employees are comfortable with
Zoom is useful, but, managers should not force video interaction, because some employees may not be comfortable. To cater for everyone, consider switching between zoom meetings and other communication channels and avoid over-communicating.
6. Make turning on the camera optional
The anxiety to look appropriate on camera is an issue that employees have to deal with. If the option to turn on the camera is left to employees, they will feel less pressured to appear correctly dressed up for the meeting.
Employees can also be assisted through training on how to use the screen for meetings. For instance, Gianpiero Petriglieri, an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, advises, “Having your screen off to the side, instead of straight ahead, could also help your concentration, particularly in group meetings” (Source).
7. Collect feedback to improve the process
One way of ensuring that everyone is comfortable is by knowing how people feel about the Zoom meetings. Ask your team what’s working and what’s not, then use the feedback to build a better video meeting experience.
8. Reduce stress by communicating clearly
Some mental health issues in the workplace can be caused by unclear and inefficient communication. Thus, managers need to be clear about goals, deadlines, and where stuck employees should find help. A lack of clarity could leave employees anxious, in isolation, and relying mostly on assumptions.
9. Trust your employees
One of the issues that can lead to mental health challenges comes when managers micromanage and over-communicate because they do not trust their employees. If you are failing to trust your employees, you could be failing to develop a workplace that is positive and celebrates the strengths of employees.
Working from home can tempt employees to overwork, which can strain their health and well-being. Thus, it is vital to encourage employees to keep a regular work schedule (Source). However, employees should be involved in making decisions about breaks, and when they are expected to be available for meetings.
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