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  • With most employees still working from home, the added stress can be significant.
  • There are ways that employers and employees can try to manage it, says health expert.
  • Research by Alexander Forbes Health says some employees find they are working longer hours than before the pandemic.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

With the third wave raging in Gauteng, it seems likely offices and places of work won't be back to pre-pandemic normal as soon as many had hoped.

Lockdown in South Africa comes with opposing views: some hail the move to working from home as an inevitable trend, some can’t wait for a return to what they see as normality and an end to the ‘work from home social experiment’, while others hope for a hybrid working model.

But whatever happens next, the emotional impact of working from home has been insufficiently studied, according to Myrna Sachs, the head of Health Management Solutions at Alexander Forbes Health.

There is evidence that people working from home – and their organisations – are suffering the negative effects of employees no longer being in the office, and Alexander Forbes' research shows employees are working longer hours than they did at the office, Sachs says.

“Employees are experiencing digital overload. Back-to-back meetings with no time to pause and the perception that it’s fine to squeeze in another one simply because everything is now being done digitally have become prevalent,” says Sachs.

Instead of better work/life balance, many are experiencing a blurring of the line between work and home life.

“There are no longer any boundaries being adhered to, and the expectation is for employees to be readily available all day. By way of example, many respondents in our research felt the constant urge to check their work emails after normal working hours”.   

Working from home has also placed a heavy burden on the mental health of many individuals. Sachs says that their research found that many, particularly those living on their own, were reliant on the office for social interaction. “Humans are at their essence social beings. Starving them of social interaction can have devastating consequences,” says Sachs.   

The lack of social cues and gestures in the virtual setting has also led to increased miscommunication among colleagues. “Non-verbal cues and gestures are an important part of human interaction and communication. Where these are not recognisable, as in the virtual meeting setting, especially when video cameras are off, misunderstanding between people can easily occur where they can’t observe facial expressions and body language.”

There are some solutions for organisations and their employees when confronted with the challenges of working from home, Alexander Forbes Health recommends.

Here's how to avoid burnout while working from home.

Create a 'buddy' system among colleagues.

Stay in touch with buddy system.
Stay in touch with buddy system.


Regular check-ins with team members – keeping video on.

Keep video on in meetings.
Keep video on in meetings.

Introducing fun challenges to keep employees motivated.

In your work bubble, play quizzes against other te
In your work bubble, play quizzes against other team members.

Auditing home workspaces and circumstance to understand what employees need in their home office space to work optimally.

Do a work space audit.
Do a work space audit.

It may also help to understand whether they have other responsibilities at home such as having to home school their children, or if their partner also works from home.

Allowing some flexibility, with proper guidelines to guard against abuse.

Work from your bed.
Work from your bed.

 “There are myriad support systems and tools that organisations can use to support their employees during this time. If you go the extra mile to ensure their wellbeing, it is bound to have a positive knock-on effect on the business.

 “If vaccination rates speed up, this should allow us to return to the office more safely and more rapidly, and allow more normalised social interaction. This will have a direct bearing on mental health,” says Sachs.

(Compiled by Jen Crocker)

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