DR MAX PEMBERTON: Warning: WFH is Worrying For your Health

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Warning: WFH is Worrying For your Health

  • Legions of workers across England are having to set up their home office 
  • Dr Max Pemberton says working from home will cost many their mental health
  • NHS psychiatrist shares his top tips for staying sane while working from home

Here we are again: back to working from home. Just as we were returning to a semblance of normality, legions of office workers now face the prospect of setting up their home office all over again.

While for some, this will be welcome — they will avoid the daily commute, spend longer in bed and have more time with their family — it’s not without its downside, too.

For many office workers, working from home will come at a cost to their mental health in a number of ways. At the sharp end, we are at real risk of stalling economic recovery.

So many businesses are dependent on the daily commute. The livelihoods of people working in coffee shops, cafes, bars and restaurants are at stake.

Dr Max Pemberton warns that working from home will cost many their mental health in a number of ways (file image)

Cooks, taxi drivers, dry cleaners, shop owners, office cleaners, security staff, hotel workers and so on are all dependent on people going into work — and if working from home continues, we may well see significant job losses in these sectors and we know that unemployment is inextricably linked to poor mental health.

But that’s not all.

The structure of work — having to start and finish at certain times — is important.

Many patients have told me how they have struggled to switch off while working from home. This has led to anxiety levels skyrocketing.

A day’s work easily bleeds into the evening, blurring the boundary between our work and our private life. People check emails late into the night, take calls or join conference calls out of office hours. It’s difficult to turn off the computer and walk away when the screen is blazing away in your bedroom/kitchen/living room.

But there’s also the social element which we lose when working from home.

There’s something incredibly valuable about having people around you. Brief, even fleeting interactions with co-workers are the fabric of our working life.

The fact is these vague, tentative connections are important. They feed into our deeply rooted sense of tribal affiliations.

We might not know the person down the corridor very well, but we are still connected to them through our place of work and this sense of connection needs to be fostered and nurtured.

Anyone who has been in a Zoom meeting will know they just aren’t the same as a real face-to-face meeting.

There’s no preamble or chat beforehand, it’s less jokey and fun.

People seem less present and engaged.

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) recommends sticking to your working day and offering to check in with new people for staying sane while working from home 

We might like the idea of working from home, but we’ve failed to take into account how significant day-to-day social interaction is for us.

Going to work is a vital way of forming alliances and friendships which it’s just not possible to do virtually.

For the time being, many of us will be able to trade off existing relationships. But what about younger people starting out in the workplace? They’ll struggle to form bonds with colleagues.

They’ll miss out on the kind of learning you only get when you shadow someone closely or are surrounded by others more experienced than you.

It might sound daft, but the most important thing we do at work isn’t actually work. We are gregarious animals — interacting with each other allows us to foster alliances, make connections, build friendships.

We’ve all had the experience of an infuriating boss or irritating colleague. Frustrations, annoyances and friction are a normal part of working life.

But the working environment gives us the chance let off steam. We can go and complain to a sympathetic colleague if something happens. A surreptitious roll of the eyes in a meeting about a boss who is droning on lightens the mood and makes things bearable. It’s these small, apparently inconsequential moments that help us cope with the pressure of working life.

Conversely, we might go off and complain about a colleague, only to find that others have found them a joy to work with and this in turn triggers some reflection and pause for thought.

We can’t allow this working from home culture to become the norm — but for those of us who find ourselves still in our pyjamas, shuffling three steps to our desk this morning, here are my tips for staying sane.

1 Stick to your working day. If you have a work phone, then turn it off when your day is over. Resist the temptation to check emails out of working hours. Be brutal about this, and don’t waver no matter how urgent someone says it is.

Put your working hours at the bottom of your emails and set an out-of-office message for the evenings, so no one can claim they didn’t know what times you are available.

2 Make sure you take a lunch break. Do this away from your desk. Preferably sit in a different part of the house to where you have your office set up. Ideally, go for a walk as a break around midday if possible, too.

3 Make a conscious effort at the beginning of Zoom meetings to say hello to people and check in with them. It’s not the same as in a face-to-face meeting, but try to have a chat about things other than work before the meeting actually starts.

4 Offer to check in with new people — especially young colleagues starting out — who might not know other members of staff and may feel lost or overwhelmed.

5 And finally don’t forget to book a proper holiday — ideally nowhere near your new ‘office’.

Play the long game, Emma

Dr Max said Emma Raducanu (pictured), who is the face of Tiffany and Dior, needs to be careful of overexposure and to remember: life is a marathon, not a sprint

Emma Raducanu has had an extraordinary year. After her sensational U.S. Open win, she has been catapulted up to the dizzying heights of superstardom.

And she’s still only 19.

Already the face of Tiffany and Dior, last week she was signed up by Evian. Undoubtedly, she will make millions and be set up for life. But I do worry that when you have risen so far, so fast, the fall can be very hard indeed.

I have worked with people who find stardom early in life.

When the spotlight dims, they often find themselves in a cold and lonely place. It’s not helped that, when your star is in ascendance, the people advising you often have a financial incentive to push you further.

Emma is still so young. She needs to be careful of overexposure and to remember: life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Dr Max said it’s perfectly possible to find ‘the one’ after a few dud. Pictured: Shirley Ballas who may be engaged to her partner, Danny Taylor

  • Rumours that Shirley Ballas, a favourite of this column, may be engaged to her partner, Danny Taylor, have led many to speculate on the success rates of third marriages — Shirley has been wed twice before, after all. Maybe I’m a romantic, but it’s perfectly possible to find ‘the one’ after a few duds. In psychology we talk about the ‘dynamic’ — how two people interact. And this is why a third, fourth or even fifth marriage might work — someone might just find the person whose emotional landscape fits with theirs.

A bit like trying lots of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and then finding the one that fits.

£70, cultbeauty.co.uk

Dr Max prescribes…

A Bed of Nails

This mat uses the ancient idea of pressure in a similar way to acupuncture to help with relaxation, sleep and chronic neck and back pain.

Thankfully, this modern version doesn’t actually have nails that could penetrate the skin, just small plastic spikes.

£70, cultbeauty.co.uk.

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