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Mental health concerns, poor social skills, and excess screen time — the dark side of WFH

By Shandel McAuliffe | |6 minute read
Mental health concerns, poor social skills, and excess screen time — the dark side of WFH

The arguments in favour of hybrid working are well known, from flexibility and work-life balance to widening talent pools. But these benefits need to be balanced against what might be lost when people aren’t in the office.

HR Leader spoke with Just Global HR Services managing director Jayne Morgan about some of the issues facing HR right now, including asking Ms Morgan what people might be missing out on when working from home.

Ms Morgan put forward: “Nobody's connecting the empty office to mental wellbeing. They're all saying, 'Yeah, it's great and we should be working from home.’ But there's not enough going on between that connection between mental health and being in the office with your colleagues.”


Looking at work philosophically, and thinking about the role it plays in our lives, Ms Morgan commented: “Some of us go into work, to work. Some of us go into work to work and be with people. I think people do need that social interaction. I think we've lost the skill of interacting and networking.”

And not being accustomed to face-to-face interactions seems to be making people more tired when they do meet up with others. Ms Morgan said: “I think we're becoming alien to being sociable as well, and it's tiring when you go out.”

She added: “When you've been working on your own, you're then with a group of people and it's just so tiring.”

Without wanting to appear too negative, Ms Morgan cited WFH concerns for junior employees. She stated: “I think graduates and junior staff are missing out on meeting senior execs. They're not able to have that conversation at the coffee point and get to know senior people. And not interacting on a daily basis, or learning from hearing, or opportunities from listening to other people [sic]. I think people are going to be missing out on that, in that empty office scenario.”

“I think there are more and more online meetings without the gaps in between. So, I think we are having too much screen time, far too much, and people just pop in a meeting and you feel obliged to accept that meeting, even though you haven't got the time. I think there's an increased number of emails flowing and that's not doing people any good at all because there's that pressure. Even though we try to say, ‘Right. Move away from your screen. Go and have a break.’ I don't think people are doing it,” Ms Morgan added.

Relating what she’d heard when conducting a recent exit interview, Ms Morgan said the employee had started with the business during the first lockdown, and it’s now when they are back to on-site working that she’s getting to know people. She quoted the employee as saying: “I've met people that I didn't even know really existed. Didn't know what they did, and how they interacted and what their role was within the company. It's just brilliant. Just love being back."

To manage the sort of changes HR is facing, Ms Morgan said that businesses need to ask themselves: “Where do we go from here and what happens? What is right?”

She clarified: “I don't think there is a right or wrong. It depends on the business, and it depends on the employees, and the leadership.”

Note from the editor

Just Global HR Services is based in the UK but is open to working with customers in Australia.

The transcript of this podcast episode when quoted above was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Jayne Morgan, click below:


Hybrid working

In a hybrid work environment, individuals are allowed to work from a different location occasionally but are still required to come into the office at least once a week. With the phrase "hybrid workplace," which denotes an office that may accommodate interactions between in-person and remote workers, "hybrid work" can also refer to a physical location.

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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