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Mental health expert discusses psychological impact of working from home for extended period of time

Dr. Paul White
Dr. Paul White(KWCH)
Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 11:56 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - For several weeks, many have transitioned to working from home due to COVID-19. Working from home for an extended period can have a psychological impact on employees, research shows.

Joining Michael Schwanke Thursday to discuss the issue is psychologist Dr. Paul White who recently wrapped up a four-week study on the impact of working from home and the challenges employers and employees face.

Michael SchwankeJoining me now, psychologist Dr. Paul White who we have talked to before. He specializes in the workplace and workplace relationships. He's written a book about it and now, Dr. white, we find ourselves in uncharted territory.

Paul WhiteAbsolutely, we sure do.

Michael SchwankeSo what are some of the biggest challenges, because I know you've done this survey or looked at this survey, what are some of the biggest challenges the workplace is facing right now?

Paul WhiteWe just completed a research study following a group of 50 people across the country for the last four weeks, finding out what it was like for them to work from home and the challenges there. And, you know, while there are positives, probably the biggest is staying connected and being able to figure out how to communicate well and, especially in team kinds of issues. Often one-on-one communication goes okay when you have to coordinate with people. It's a different kind of communication where you're watching yourself, You can't watch everybody else. And also the delays in communication from the technology creates problems about pauses or talking on top of each other, that kind of thing.

Michael SchwankeWe use the Zoom app here and we have those big group meetings as most people in this building are remote, but, communication is just really tricky. It's just not the same, is it?

Paul WhiteNo, it's not. and the other issue, when people are working remotely, you don't have those sort of spontaneous chance encounters walking by somebody's office or seeing them in the break room or whatever that you stop and chat about things, about how things are going. So one of the things we found through our research is that you really need to be proactive in connecting with other people, that if you don't, you just don't ever connect with them because you're walking by your video screen or whatever. So there's that aspect and also most of the communication going on is work-related and, you know, we're people as well as employees and workers and we have lives and there's a lot going on in our lives right now, and if you only talk about work it sort of denigrates down to feeling like just a production unit and, "I'm only concerned about getting things done." So we really encourage teams and people to take time to connect personally about, "How is it going being home alone?" or "How is the home schooling going with the kids" or, "What did you do this weekend?" So there's more of a personal element developed as well as the work communication.

Michael SchwankeThere is a lot of pressure on people working from home, as you mentioned a lot of them have children. They're trying to school them as well. In your research here, i'm reading some of your notes, there's a level of anxiety and I want to talk about the mental health aspect of this for both of those left in the workplace and those working from home.

Paul WhiteYeah, one of the big issues is sort of the instability of what’s going on out there. which leads to an unpredictability so we don’t know what’s happening next week or in two weeks or next month. And most of us don’t like that. We like to plan, we like structure and routine. And so it creates a sort of overarching anxiety or angst about, “I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t know how to make a decision,” and it just creates an unsettledness for people. You know when you’re anxious you don’t think clearly, you know, you’re distracted and don’t get as much done. And if we can sort of help manage that to some degree, it can really help overall.

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