Before the pandemic struck, working from home seemed like a incredible perk for many employees. Employers often fretted about how offering this coveted benefit would affect productivity, teamwork, and communication. Which is why a mere 14 percent of employees were working remotely before COVID-19, according to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those numbers have drastically increased and remain high even after the nationwide shutdown has lifted. A Stanford researcher estimates that 42 percent of the U.S. labor force is working from home full-time, and an economist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that nearly half of the workforce is now remote.
Unfortunately, working from home is not proving to be the dream experience that many employees were anticipating, according to new research. Wearing pyjamas all day and working from the couch has become a reality they claim. But the trade-off is often long hours, more virtual meetings, and blurred lines between work and personal life. Some people are benefitting and are enjoying working from home, but for the most part, working remotely is taking its toll concludes researchers.
The Martec Group surveyed 1,214 individuals across various industries, demographics, and seniority levels to identify how working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting employees. While some blossomed working from home, the survey also found a significant decline in mental health across all industries, seniority levels, and demographics. Job satisfaction, job motivation, and company satisfaction were also negatively affected.
The smallest employee group identified by the Martec Group Work from Home Study was “Thriving Employees.” This group represented a mere 16 percent of employees working from home and are the only group who said they loved it. One-quarter of employees surveyed are identified as “Hopeful Employees” who believe working from home is not for them, but who have complete faith in their company’s management.
According to the survey, the majority of employees do not like working from home. 27 percent of employees are “Discouraged Employees” who do not like working from home but think their company is doing the best. The remaining 32 percent of employees also now dislike working from home but also don’t think their company is handling the pandemic situation well.
There is more at hand than whether employees truly like working from home after having had the opportunity to experience it. The survey revealed that working from home has a strong negative impact on employees’ mental health. Before COVID-19, 62 percent of employees reported positive mental health. As the pandemic continues, that number has dipped to just 28 percent. Perhaps not surprisingly, job satisfaction and job motivation have also fallen—job satisfaction from 57 percent to 32 percent and job motivation from 56 percent to 36 percent.
It is possible to hypothesize many reasons that so many people are struggling with mental health. Especially as parents attempt to tackle remote learning with their children, many remain unemployed and isolated at home. Interestingly, over a third of people felt their schedules improved (33 percent), and they had a better work-life balance (38 percent) after they started home-working. These benefits did not help to alleviate stress for a significant portion of employees. The Martec Group study found that only 24 percent of employees felt like their stress levels improved working from home, and 42 percent reported increased stress levels. Pay did not seem to be a factor. Only 18 percent of employees said their salary was negatively impacted.
As children return to learning this fall, parents who have been and continue to work from home will likely face additional stressors. While they have been balancing home and work life in one space for months, they now have the added responsibility of also managing schoolwork throughout the day between work meetings and their projects that must be completed.
Working from home does offer the benefits and convenience of no time spent commuting, the ability to do prep work for meals and other housework during free moments in the day, and the freedom to schedule home maintenance and repair appointments at any time of day. But the data shows that working from home is still not the ideal work environment for most employees. What was novel and viewed with a positive outlook months ago has become a challenge for most employees and led to a desire to return to the office as soon as possible for many within the study, which if representative of the wider population, is a watershed moment.