The mental health of employees is deteriorating, and it is probably far from over

Teleworking can be fun or necessary for a while, but it has its limits. (drawing) – VALERY HACHE / AFP

  • We love it or hate it, sometimes both at the same time, but teleworking has made a surprise and massive arrival in the lives of many employees.
  • France, very late in the implementation, was absolutely not prepared. Companies have gotten into it as best they can, but overall in a way that does not seem sustainable in the long term.
  • The question of the mental health of employees, in particular those in teleworking, appears for the specialists questioned by 20 Minutes like a time bomb.

Since you have been teleworking due to the health crisis, have you already received a message IN CAPITALS from one of your colleagues and that bothered you? Can’t take a break or feel a lot more tired than usual? Your manager has already sent you an order email with the boss in copy and that strained you? Do you feel isolated and that saddens you? Paradoxically, you are not alone. For several months, many studies have noted a sharp deterioration in the mental health of employees, worsened in the event of teleworking: according to a barometer published this Wednesday, carried out by Opinionway just before the reconfinement for the French-Canadian firm Empreinte Humaine , 58% of full-time teleworking employees are in psychological distress compared to 53% of those in a hybrid situation (mixing distance and face-to-face) and “only” 49% in all situations.

Concretely, this is reflected above all in a kind of increase in anxiety at work. “It is linked to uncertainty and lack of perspective, to the loss of control over one’s environment,” explains Nicolas Magnant, associate director of the firm specializing in the prevention of psychosocial risks Alterhego. But there is also a stress very related to the requirement of the moment: managing the kids, the job, a meeting at the same time is psychically very demanding. The main modality of teleworking (concentrating on a computer) is a source of considerable fatigue and explains this exhaustion, this nervous fatigue that some and some have been experiencing for a few months. “We focus on the screen, on one thing, while in the office there are discussions, the non-verbal, the informal… explains Nicolas Magnant. This creates cognitive fatigue because we overuse a single function in teleworking. “

France very late on teleworking before the crisis

An observation that we find in the testimonies that the readers of 20 Minutes have sent us about their teleworking experiences. “It’s super hard to get a job. I do a lot more overtime compared to before, ”explains Manon. Tina, she said to have “the oppressive feeling of never really leaving work and of having lost my home, my cocoon which is now transformed into a permanent office”. Set up in the midst of the crisis, in mid-March, this massive, total and sudden telework “does not take into account the organization of working time, does not take into account the division between professional and personal life and does not think either to the fading transitions (breaks, transport time…) ”, estimates Dominique Lhuilier, professor emeritus at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts and work psychologist, interviewed by 20 Minutes.

It must be said that little or nothing had been anticipated. Compared to other countries, particularly in northern Europe, France was already very late in setting up “normal” teleworking, that is to say outside of a health emergency if one Can say. And after nearly a year of pandemic we are still very late and the situations between companies remain extremely contrasted, observes Nicolas Magnant

Digital incivilities

In the context of a “very controlling French management” and its famous presenteeism from home, the psychosocial risk expert notes despite everything that the supervisors have rather been up to the task. “The managers present quite quickly organized support times. But, very often it is the teams that were already functioning well that have migrated to telework, even if we have lost the pleasure of being there with others. “In other cases, on the contrary,” the managers have downright unscrewed, tense up, started to over-control everything and with practices bordering on harassment “, notes Nicolas Magnant.

We have also seen the development of what some already call “digital incivility”. These messages sent in copy to the hierarchical superior, these meetings where everyone is not really behind their computer or these messages written ALL IN CAPITAL and extremely unpleasant. Nicolas Magnant has also noticed a written communication that becomes more brutal, in a context where informal communication has disappeared. “We underestimate the scope of receiving messages. In the teams that work around projects there is a lot of informal which is very effective. So teleworking has revealed misunderstandings and friction. This written vector generates new forms of aggressiveness, even of pressure, which sometimes goes as far as harassment. “

We lack perspective on the implementation of teleworking

However, if we are to believe the testimonies of the readers of 20 Minutes, many of you love telecommuting. Franck even goes so far as to speak of “absolute well-being” and hopes that this way of working will “become widespread”. Olivia has “clearly gained in quality of life, in performance in my job” but recognizes that she has the chance to work in a company where confidence reigns. Not very surprising for the work psychologist Dominique Lhuilier since there are plenty of reasons to appreciate work at home. Moreover, for her, we cannot cut the population into two groups fundamentally for and fundamentally against this type of organization. “We can like teleworking because we have a lot of transport but regret not seeing our colleagues anymore. We can like teleworking because we are chronically ill and the epidemic worries but find that we work less well. “

Nicolas Magnant considers that it is too early to judge the merits of teleworking for oneself and one’s work, as we are still in a telework crisis. “Let’s see what will happen in the long term, because that can change. The fact of carrying out tasks efficiently from a distance, even being even more efficient, and improving the quality of life in certain aspects is one thing. Losing the social support of the team, friendliness, mutual aid is another. Working is not just doing tasks. I think that over time we will find that massive teleworking can have disintegrating effects. The consultant is also panicking to see some companies decide to switch permanently to total teleworking by selling their premises.

The psychic backlash promises to be violent

In the testimonials of the most enthusiastic teleworkers that we have received, the main downside concerns the question of human relations and the lack of conviviality. “I am very afraid of social isolation, warns Nicolas Magnant. We underestimate our need to be together. These are very basic human needs. “For him, after the crisis, without rules, without company agreements, this pace of teleworking will not be sustainable. He points out the risks of suffering and depression.

And even among those who ensure that they live “absolute well-being” by teleworking like Franck, the risk is not totally absent. “We have not finished measuring the impact of Covid-19, also underlines Dominique Lhuilier. The psychic impacts are already very important and they will be even more so, it can be delayed, there will be decompensation phenomena. We have already seen the massive anguish with the first deconfinement. “And the psychologist to point out: until then,” everything that has been implemented against the virus has focused on somatic treatment. The whole psychic dimension has been obscured ”. As with the economic crisis, the backlash from the “mental crisis” could be violent.

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