Which Type of WFH Option is Best for Your Mental Health?
At the height of the pandemic, nearly every employer who could transition their workforce to a remote one, did. After the initial shock of all the “pivoting” and Zoom fatigue wore off, you may have decided that working from home (WFH); was Nirvana itself.
After all, with a commute consisting of one flight of stairs or less, the ability to adopt yoga pants as a uniform, a purring cat in your lap, and favorite snacks just steps away in the kitchen, what’s not to like?
Most WFH Employees Do So by Choice
According to a 2022 Pew Research Center report, 76% of those who work from home; now do so by choice and not pandemic-related necessity. Respondents cited the main reason as improved work-life balance.
As the pandemic wore on, companies were met by heated pushback and even resignation from scores of reluctant workers who were asked to return to the office but didn’t want to. In response, many corporations revamped their hiring practices by offering employees more flexible work options that included remote only or hybrid models.
Making the Right WFH Choice for your Mental Well-Being
But is remote working right for you? And which model of remote working best supports your
Research that tracked the psychological effects of working from home throughout the pandemic suggests that for some people, working solely from home can have detrimental effects on mental health. Despite how ideal it may have seemed at first, people are struggling with the mental health effects of working from home.
If the sheen of WFH has now worn off a bit for you, knowing what the mental health effects are, who is most likely to be affected, and how to manage those challenges are key to maintaining optimal mental health if you plan to remain a WFH employee.
How Your Personality Style Can Make It Harder to WFH
Extroversion is one of the personality traits that is rooted in a widely accepted theory known as the Big Five theory of personality, where extroversion exists on a continuum.
If you find that you thrive on socializing with your coworkers, your barista, the people you encounter on the elevator, or anyone else you come across in the day, you likely score higher on the extroversion continuum.
When it comes to working from home, one 2020 study found that extroverts preferred in-person interactions versus virtual ones. And in a 2022 study, the findings suggested that for those scoring high on the extroversion scale, remote work as a long-term strategy may not be the best solution. The study found that extroverts experienced more burn out, had worse performance, and indicated lower job satisfaction than their more introverted counterparts.
So, Extroverted One, what can you do should you find yourself withering from that WFH job?
Advantages of a Hybrid Remote Work Option for Extroverts
If hybrid work is an option, this could be one solution that balances your need for face-to-face time with your need to avoid rising gas prices and traffic jams.
A 2020 study by Bloom found that two days in the office is ideal for most workers, and studies from the human resources sector find that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are peak face to face time days and most ideal for team collaboration.
What Extroverts Should Do in a Remote Only Job
But what if you’re stuck in a remote only job that doesn’t have an option for hybrid work?
There are still a few other things you can do. First, make sure that you participate in as many
virtual teamwork activities or groups as possible, as opposed to more solitary virtual tasks.
Another option is to create a virtual water cooler space if your company doesn’t already have
one, that allows you time to connect with people around non-work-related topics. And, in your off time, make sure that you have enough off-work options like participating in a sports league, club, or just regularly getting together with friends to buffer yourself against the increased stress and depression that can arise from too much isolation.
For those on the more introverted side of the scale, no longer having to endure too many conversations with chatty co-workers or the intrusive feeling that comes from working in an ‘open concept’ space, may have at first felt hugely liberating. But being introverted doesn’t mean that you’re shy, or that you don’t need any social interaction at all.
Downside of Remote Only Work for Introverts
An extended WFH situation with no opportunity for any socialization may leave you feeling too isolated, especially if you live alone. Alternatively, a distressing or noisy family situation may cause you to feel too over-stimulated in your work from home space and longing for an ‘escape’ back to the office. Some studies show that introverts experience lower emotional wellbeing and increased feelings of loneliness as the result of a WFH situation.
One reason may be that introverts tend to have smaller social groups than their more extroverted colleagues and they may be less likely to proactively reach out, which results in fewer opportunities for much-needed connection. Another reason is that Zoom meetings can feel exhausting on a whole new level for introverts – it’s too much of a “lights, camera, action” feeling that just isn’t present during in person interactions and can make a more introverted person feel overly scrutinized and vulnerable.
Advantages of a Hybrid Remote Option for Introverts
According to a Myers-Briggs survey of the effects of remote work on personality type, 82% of
self-identified introverts prefer a hybrid model of work. While this may seem surprising, it seems that introverts intuitively know that too much isolation just isn’t good for them.
Best Days of the Week for Introverts to Go to the Office
As an introvert, going into the office on a Thursday or a Friday, may suit you best in the hybrid model of work. Why? HR studies now show that “Thursday is the new Friday” with more people opting to work from home on those days.
That means that you can get still get that needed social connection without becoming too overwhelmed. And if you’re looking for a good opportunity to get some face-to-face time with leadership, a Friday can be a great day to do that without having to compete for management’s attention from your more extroverted co-workers.
Like extroverts, forging out of office connections with others is integral to protecting yourself from protracted periods of isolation and loneliness. As an introvert, you might be less inclined to seek out large group activities but being more intentional about connecting with a friend or two for a coffee chat or dinner a couple of times a month can go a long way towards protecting your mental health.
Distraction, ADHD and WFH
Almost three years into the pandemic and the WFH transition, we are now well-aware of how easily distractions creep into our day to derail our work productivity. In a 2021 survey of remote workers conducted by Job List, 53% of people who WFH found it more difficult to separate their work from their non work life and 59% found themselves working past their regular work hours as opposed to when they worked in the office. And if you’re in a manager role, that figure increases to almost 71%.
What’s Everyone Doing Instead of Working?
According to that same survey, most remote workers reported that distractions from work took a variety of forms including playing video games, doing laundry, watching TV, cooking, exercising, running errands, childcare, watching movies, and cleaning.
Clearly, no longer having the structure of the office is a challenge at times for even the most
focused employee. So, what about if you have the added challenge of having ADHD? Does that mean that your career is doomed if you choose not to return to the office?
ADHD and WFH – Should You Even Try?
The short answer to the question of whether WFH is right for someone with ADHD is “it
depends.” Not all WFH jobs are created equally, and depending on the type of job you have, remote work could either be a match made in heaven or a stress-inducing nightmare.
Distractions and WFH
On the one hand, no longer being distracted by co-workers or too many water cooler conversations can be helpful in staying on task. On the other, those same co-workers can also keep you on target by serving as a reminder that certain work projects need to be done by a certain time.
If you have the type of remote job where there’s no one depending on you to finish your work so that they can complete theirs, you might find it harder to stay focused.
You also may find it harder to focus if you share your home with others who interrupt you throughout the day (and that includes pets). Depending on the situation, a co-working space may be more optimal than staying at home if you don’t have an option to go into an office.
Boredom and WFH
If you have ADHD, then you know that boredom can be a challenge for you. The advantage of working in an office is that there are typically fewer things to turn your attention toward when you’re feeling bored, not to mention that seeing your boss walk down the hallway can be a powerful visual cue to get back on task.
At home, the possibilities are endless of things that can divert your attention from getting work done. The simple act of returning an empty coffee mug to the kitchen can turn into unloading the dishwasher, loading it back up, sweeping the floor and letting the dog out before you even realize that you’ve gotten off task.
Routine and WFH
If your WFH job has flexible starting hours, then this could be a dream come true for the person with ADHD. Often, typical nine to five workdays just don’t suit the ADHD brain. If your remote job allows you to work when you function best, then working from home can be a welcome relief from trying to conform to a morning routine that doesn’t suit the way your body or brain work best.
On the other hand, a remote job that expects you to be logged on by a certain time of the day, can feel more difficult without the established morning routine of getting up, dressed, and leaving the house by a certain time each morning.
Task Initiation and ADHD
Getting started on a task when you have ADHD is often a challenge though as you likely know, once you manage to start, hyperfocus or “time blindness” can also be an issue. Again, the rhythms of the office environment can help to provide important cues throughout your day to help you to stay on target or knowing when to take a break.
If you have ADHD, a hybrid “at will” job is well-worth considering as compared to a job that has a fixed hybrid schedule. Being able to choose when you need that extra structure that the office provides to make progress on a project is more beneficial than being forced to go into the office on a day when you know that you’d be more productive at home.
Tips, Tools, and Tricks for ADHD and WFH Success
When choosing to work from home, setting yourself up for success with ADHD-friendly tips,
tool and techniques is key.
Here are a few potential game-changers to increase your odds at successfully working from home:
1. Use alarms liberally and throughout the day. When you have ADHD, using alarms to help
create structure to your day can make the difference between creating a WFH situation where you thrive, versus a situation that feels chaotic, disorganized, or unproductive. Set alarms as cues to help you start your day, to take a break, to notify you when break
time is over, and to end your day.
2. Whether you start your actual workday in the morning or not, a daily beginning routine to start your day is important in providing yourself with structure. Whether you ease into your day by meditating, exercising, reading, walking your dog, or just showering, and making coffee, committing to a “first things first” routine will go a long way towards getting the day off to a good start.
3. Manage distractions by using tools like a white noise machine, engaging the “do not
disturb” message on your project management system or using an old-fashioned Do Not
Disturb sign on your door at home. Listening to playlists designed to increase focus like
lo-fi music or classical playlists for working or studying can also help to keep you in the
4. Stay on top of clutter in your work area. Do non-work-related objects tend to migrate
into your work area during the day? (We’re looking at you, unfolded laundry pile.) If so,
take a few moments to tidy up your desk and work area at the end of each workday to
maximize your ability to concentrate in a more orderly environment.
For an excellent and comprehensive guide to managing the challenges of ADHD, check out Ari
Tuckman’s, More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD, which is a
guidebook written in a user -friendly format for the person with ADHD.
Depression, Anxiety and WFH
Many pandemic era studies over the past two years reported that most remote workers
experienced an increase in depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and poor sleep.
Who is Most at Risk When Working from Home?
These results were particularly pronounced for women, young mothers, young adults, people who live alone, and people who were already living with depression and anxiety prior to the pandemic. For example, in one survey, 81% of those under 35 were concerned about the long-term effects of working remotely on their long-term emotional well-being.
Reasons for Decline in Mental Health when WFH
Studies found that the main contributing factors to declines in mental health and overall well-being included decreased physical activity, poorer food choices, increased distractions, parenting challenges, and less communication and contact with co-workers.
Given that much of this data were collected during the height of lockdown and coronavirus fear and confusion, it will be interesting to see if future studies bear the same results in a few more years, though even pre-pandemic studies on tele-work pointed toward using caution when it comes to mental health.
Pre-Pandemic WFH Employees Were More Stressed Out Too
For example, a 2017 United Nations Report on remote workers found that 41% of those who
worked remotely reported high levels of stress as compared to just 25% of in-office workers.
Since remote work appears to be here to stay, it seems critical to identify the risk factors that
working from home may create for employees who work from home so that effective strategies can be identified and further developed to combat those risks.
Knowing when to reach out for Mental Health Support
1. First, know that it’s okay to not be okay. With all the hype around working from home, you may feel like there’s something wrong with you if you find yourself not loving it like others you may know. Remember there aren’t any one size fits all work solutions, and it’s perfectly okay to search out the type that’s best for you.
2. If you’ve had trouble self-motivating to get yourself on track with self-care routines like
exercise, healthy eating, and getting yourself out of the house to do some type of socializing, it may be time to reach out for professional support.
3. Seeing your PCP can be a good first step to getting help. An overall wellness exam can address any physical issues that may be contributing to mood problems. Your doctor should also be able to give you a referral for a therapist in your area, who will help you to enact a plan to address your struggles and to improve your emotional well-being.
4. If you’re having thoughts of suicide and need to talk to someone right away, you can always dial 988, a national mental health crisis line for support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you're faced with the choice between at-home, hybrid, or on-site working, be honest with yourself and try to make the best choice for you. Keep in mind your personality style, your ability to manage distractions, and your ability to apply coping strategies for managing stress, worry and isolation. Making a list of the pros and cons of each work type may be helpful in identifying which model best supports you and your overall life satisfaction and emotional well-being.
If you find yourself struggling with any aspect of working from home, consider reaching out to a licensed mental health professional for support.
With so many employers offering different types of work arrangements these days, the odds are good that you will be able to find the perfect work arrangement that best supports your mental health and overall well-being.