Outside the Box

Oct. 24, 2020, 2:11 p.m. EDT

Older workers are working from home more successfully than their younger colleagues

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Kerry Hannon

Returning to the office isn’t going to happen anytime soon. COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. And the result is that remote working is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Only 28% of U.S. employees expect to return to their workplaces by the end of 2020, according to a recent Conference Board survey of more than 1,100 U.S. workers. Another 38% of those workers expect to return at some point in 2021 or beyond.

That’s troubling because working from home has already taken a toll on the mental health of workers, according to a new global study of people between age 22 and 74 by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence , an HR research and advisory firm.

The survey of more than 12,000 employees, managers, HR leaders, and C-level executives across 11 countries, found that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of 78% of the global workforce. Meantime, a whopping 85% of people say their mental health issues at work negatively affect their home life.

I touched on mental health challenges of remote work in my previous MarketWatch column on ways to combat work from home burnout. The issue, however, deserves more attention.

The number of adults experiencing depression has tripled in the United States since the coronavirus outbreak began, according to a JAMA Network study , with more than one in four adults reporting symptoms of depression.

I was curious about how the cohort of workers I frequently focus my work on–the 50+ set–were holding up.

So I asked Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence, to pull some data from their study that compares generational age groups with some conclusions about how they’ve both handled the new workplace. I will get to that shortly.

Battling stress and anxiety

First some overview from the study:

Seven out of 10 people have had more stress and anxiety at work this year than any other previous year, according to the global research. Four out of 10 people say they are also battling everyday workplace stressors like the pressure to meet performance standards and unmanageable workloads.

This is particularly the case for people working from home alongside other relatives or roommates, and those helping their kids with online schooling, or navigating the financial fallout from a spouse’s job loss during the pandemic.

And even after months of working from home, it’s still problematic for many people to draw the boundaries between working hours and home life. In fact, 41% say there is no longer a distinction between personal and professional life.

Workplace pressure and the related mental health repercussions aren’t new. The coronavirus has, however, transformed the way we work and the way we psychologically navigate it in ways that no one could have imagined.

“The pandemic has put mental health front and center — it’s the biggest workforce issue of our time and will be for the next decade,” said Schawbel. “The results of our study show just how widespread this issue has become, and why now is the time for organizations to start talking about it and exploring new solutions.”

Mental health has become “not only a broader societal issue, but a top workplace challenge,” said Emily He, senior vice president of Oracle’s human capital management cloud business group. “It has a profound impact on individual performance, team effectiveness and organizational productivity.”

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