Career Q&A - How should I balance work from home (WFH) norms?
I am feeling the negative effects of working from home. I get more agitated, irritable and more tired each day and these feelings are getting more intense to the point of contemplating a job change. What should I do? ~ Lina, Public Service Officer
In pre-pandemic days, the default commute between home and office work helped us transit mentally, emotionally and physically to settle into home or work mode. Our workplace served as a boundary for us to know where and when work should end for the day. The relationships with colleagues, team members at our workplaces also help us build mutual understanding and strengthen our social capital.
With the pandemic, the way we work has changed. One major change is the Work from Home (WFH) arrangement.
WFH is like a mixed bag - giving us more control of our time each day but yet creating more tension when we are unable to control the time well.
The transition into WFH has not been easy for many. A survey done by the National University Health System (NUHS) Mind Science Centre found that 61% of people working from home reported feeling stressed, with more women reporting their stress. The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) reported a 60% increase in help line calls between April to July 2020 where WFH was the default work arrangement for Singapore. The Singapore Government-Employer-Union Tripartite advisory has subsequently issued advisories and guidelines for organisations to focus more on workplace wellness. Counselling helplines and mental wellness programmes have sprung up to support employees at workplaces.
Even so, today, WFH is still a struggle for many of us.
At AVODAH People Solutions, we hear of struggles of our clients dealing with WFH as they contemplate career decision making. Here are some of the common struggles:
We feel fatigued from work when each new work day feels like the last work day never ended. Our typical work day is already intense, caused by the never ending flood of emails that come in, typing at our keyboards, attending video meetings and checking in our multiple work apps, phone messages. WFH intensifies everything even more, as our personal and work spaces and routines are combined. Our brain goes into overdrive as we constantly switch between different work and personal tasks. Over time, it leads to stress, burnout and tears.
With less walking and physical interaction, we find ourselves glued to our seats and computer screens for long periods each day. Given our home furniture was never meant to function as a professional work station, our bodies start to suffer from poor postures, strained muscles. Many who have pre-existing health conditions struggle even more as their conditions are exacerbated.
Always-on Work Mode
Work is no longer only done in the office; it is now in our rooms or dining tables at home! With no healthy boundaries between work and personal spaces, we become attuned to an always-on work mode. This is made worse when our colleagues and bosses are constantly on work mode too, as they intrude on our personal time.
The home has become a work-war zone and people living in the same space are more likely to get caught in the cross fires. There is competition for space and resources (eg. devices, power sockets, power chargers, wifi access) and conflicting interests created by work demands and family responsibilities.
Unable to Focus
Leading an important video conference meeting effectively with your child demanding your attention at the same time is impossible. WFH means that we may face unexpected demands from our family responsibilities and this may lower our overall productivity. A study by experience management firm Qualtrics in 2020 found that 20% of people found themselves to be less productive during WFH.
With too many video meetings, we see our calendars get blocked out each day with no time for work and rest each day. Hopping from one video meeting to another while having meals in-between (with cameras off) has become the norm. Boring meetings become opportunities to catch up on work, with little attention on what's happening in the discussion.
Would resigning be better for me?
When the struggle in WFH becomes too overwhelming and creates undesired behaviours, habits and emotions, work could become too much for one to bear. At that point, resigning from the job would seem to be the most attractive option. Speaking to a professional counsellor from organisations like the Singapore Association for Mental Health or using online resources such as "My Mental Health" website to assess your situation would be most useful at this juncture.
The better we manage the WFH transition, the more objective we can be about our job choices and career decisions. To help us be more objective, here are some tips that we recommend to help manage the WFH arrangements. In doing so, we can see things clearer and decide whether resigning would be the most appropriate decision to make.
Create a designated work space
Spend effort to clear out a designated space for your work desk. The process of clearing in itself affirms your belief to take ownership of your situation and do something better for yourself. Continue to invest in an ergonomic work table, chair, work tools as a form of self care for your body. Your posture, muscle and bones will thank you for it! This workspace becomes your office and there is no need to be in there everyday. Place reminders in your workspace about your designated work times in using the work space.
Set the day with a "go-to" routine
Start each WFH day like how you would when you go to the office. Wake up early, have breakfast, shower and freshen up, groom yourself like how you usually would. Pick clothes which are different from your home wear, something that is comfortable yet professional enough to take video calls for the day. Set a work end time and end the day with a relaxing routine such as exercise, a jog, taking your pets out, gardening or simply going for a walk in the estate.
Block out break times on your calendar
The golden rule is a 10-15 mins break for every 45 mins of work done. Stretch, walk around, use the toilet, drink water and engage in small talk with the people in the space with you. Block out break times in your calendar for rest and for your work instead of letting it become inundated with video meeting bookings by others who will grab any open slot on your calendar.
Let go of expectations and go with the flow
It is nearly impossible to expect work timelines, work progress and work quality to remain the same during the WFH phase. Not everyone adapts to WFH in a positive way and we all have different circumstances and situations to navigate. So learn to let go of your expectations of others and also yourself. Be encouraging, not demanding. See positives instead of gaps in every work situation. Be thankful for what you have and the people working with you and learn to go with the flow. Remember, while the work progress may not be fully optimal, at least you are, so that you can thrive to fight on another day.
While the pandemic has changed everything for us, let it not change us for worse. Keep hoping because the night is darkest just before dawn comes.
At AVODAH People Solutions, we provide career guidance services to people who are considering career changes, making a job change or currently in a transition to find a job. Share your career situation with us so that we can support you.