Faking a commute into work could help remote employees’ mental health

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DENVER (KDVR) — This was bound to happen sooner or later, but now new research proves it: the average work from home employee is finally missing their daily commute into the office.

With so many Coloradans working remotely, the transition from home life to work life has been tough, and psychologists say it’s actually having a negative impact on our mental health.

Research shows the average employee was commuting 38 minutes each way into work before the start of the pandemic. For many, those daily drives seemed frustrating, but now, psychologists say that buffer time in between is critically important to our mental well-being.

Because unfortunately, those 38 minutes of drive-time have now transitioned into more work.

According to researchers, the typical remote employee is taking on about 48 minutes of extra work per day.

“People are now maybe working a little bit more because there’s this felt sense of always having to be on,” said Dr. Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist at UCHealth.

Data released by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows employees are also dealing with additional meetings lumped into their days that are spilling over into their off-time.

As a result, psychologists at UCHealth say that without the detachment from work provided to us by our commutes, remote employees are at a greater risk of emotional exhaustion and burnout.

“One of the ways we think about burnout is it’s this constant threat appraisal. What’s coming? What do I need to screen for? What do I need to prepare for? And even though maybe work doesn’t feel like it’s a threat, if we’re always doing this, ‘Oh what’s next? I need to be checking in,’ — that cognitive energy plays into emotional exhaustion,” Dr. Ross said.

Emotional exhaustion is one of the three pillars of burnout, according to experts — and it’s something many remote employees in Colorado are battling right now. To help combat this growing concern, some psychologists suggest you try ‘faking’ your commute.

“That need to transition is a human need. And we need to be creative if we’re working from home, we need to be creative in terms of how we go about getting that need back,” Dr. Ross said.

Dr. Ross suggests making it a daily ritual to step away from your work from home space.

“Even if that’s just getting in and out of the car, those transitions are important. But going for a walk, walking around your neighborhood if that’s safe. Getting on your bike,” Dr. Ross explained.

That movement also helps get a person’s blood flowing, which serves as a healthy marker. Being consistent is also crucial.

“It would be really helpful to kind of find this formula that works for you that you can replicate day in and day out. If it’s snowy like it might be the next few days maybe you can still go for a walk, but you put on your boots and jacket and you can still engage in that ritual, just like you would if you were coming back from the office,” Dr. Ross said.

According to Dr. Ross, it takes about 2-3 weeks of being consistent to really make something feel more natural.

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