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Many people have been working from home for a year now. How are employees doing in terms of mental health?

“Let’s start with EUR. Overall, our employees seem to be doing fine. Nevertheless, in our first employee survey, more than half the respondents (55 per cent) said that they felt they were dealing with a very heavy workload. Most of them were people who suddenly had to start teaching online and had to completely change their methods. Furthermore, nearly half our employees (48 per cent) said they were socially isolated. They hardly talk to their supervisors and other employees. That’s kind of worrisome, because people’s mental health tends to be negatively affected by that sort of thing.”

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How do these results compare to results obtained elsewhere in the country?

“A comparable trend can be seen on the national level. We’re all in the same boat, workload-wise. Whether we’re in Utrecht, Amsterdam or Groningen, we all spend way too much time having Zoom meetings in our living rooms. For instance, my wife is a full professor at Eindhoven University of Technology. We both work from home and basically we’re experiencing the same things. Even universities of technology have to deal with technical issues that cause stress in the long run.”

How can a heavy workload be relieved?

It’s important that employees receive personalised supervision, and EUR’s HR department is seeking to achieve just that. We’re already offering vitality-related interventions, designed to make sure employees get more exercise and spend less time in front of their monitors.

“In addition, employees must try to be proactive themselves. For instance, in the last few years, my PhD student Yuri Scharp and I have conducted several studies on playful work design. This behavioural strategy allows you to challenge yourself while going about your duties. If you feel lonely, or if the work you do is very repetitive, these types of hacks can make your life more fun and more meaningful.

“Let me give you an example. Meetings can be very dull. But you can force yourself to stay focused by aiming to ask three remarkable questions. Yes, it’s a game, but it genuinely works, because if you ask a more introverted colleague a question, you get that person much more involved in the meeting.”

We’ve just been presented with the results of the elections for the Dutch Lower House. What are politicians to do in the coming years to help solve the problem of heavy workloads?

“I think we should have a minister who has a degree in psychology and is able to think about how people function within organisations. I’m very glad that D66 has emerged so victorious from these elections. That party has a proper focus on education and on the circumstances in which teachers and lecturers are working.

“You see, politicians need to pay much more attention to heavy workloads. And not only to that, but to how people can grow within an organisation. Currently, those studies are carried out by consulting firms that are not at all interested in digging very deep into that sort of thing. Much more attention must be paid to employees’ talents, and policies must be implemented that ensure that the right balance be struck between, say, heavy workloads and the resources people get to compensate for them, such as social support, autonomy and nice and varied work.”

People may have to go on working from home for quite some time. Do you have any tips for those who dread that prospect?

“Make sure you have a proper workspace. For instance, make sure you have a proper office chair. Don’t work at the kitchen table, because it’s not good enough from an ergonomic point of view. Things like getting up regularly and getting enough exercise go a long way towards relieving work-related stress, as well, and will promote physical and mental vitality. Make an active effort to get in touch with your supervisor and colleagues, and make sure that you keep growing, even in these difficult times.”

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