More working from home feel stressed than those on Covid-19 front line: Survey

Women are more likely to report being stressed at work and at home, compared to men. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - IT project manager Valerie Lim, 45, was very relieved when phase two of the reopening in Singapore came, as it meant that her children, aged 11 and five, could go back to school.

Managing her son's home-based learning programme and keeping her younger daughter occupied while attempting to keep up the same level of work productivity at home had been nothing short of challenging. She was the primary caregiver for the children, as her husband rotated between working from home and the office.

Mrs Lim was among the 1,407 respondents - including 114 front-line workers - who completed a recent Workplace Resilience survey, which found that those working from home can be more stressed than those working on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The survey, conducted by the National University Health System's (NUHS) Mind Science Centre, found that 61 per cent of those working from home reported feeling stressed, compared with 53 per cent of front liners.

More people in the work-from-home group (51 per cent) also reported feeling stressed at home, compared to the group who are on the front lines of the pandemic (32 per cent).

And, women are more likely to report being stressed at work and at home, compared to men.

A greater proportion of women (61.3 per cent) reported feeling stressed at work, relative to men (49.7 per cent). It is the same case when it comes to perceived stress at home (50.2 per cent for women versus 45.5 per cent for men).

On a positive note, most of the respondents said they found work manageable and generally felt well-supported at home and at work.

A separate survey on mental health resilience that was done concurrently by the NUHS Mind Science Centre found that younger people are more likely to report feeling anxious and to be less mentally resilient than those who are older.

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The two surveys, conducted over May and June, are believed to be the first Covid-19 mental health population surveys in Singapore.

A combined total of 3,256 responses were collected from the survey done on community resource platform, NUHS said.


In the mental resilience survey, which had 1,849 respondents, the conclusion was that Singaporeans younger than 45 are more likely to report feeling anxious than their older counterparts aged 45 and above. They may also be less mentally resilient than the older ones. The survey found that the older the respondents are, they more likely they are to perceive themselves as being mentally resilient.

For instance, half of the older respondents reported being able to handle unpleasant emotions such as sadness, fear and anger, relative to 40 per cent of the younger respondents.

Half of the younger respondents frequently worry that something bad is going to happen to them or their loved ones. In contrast, 38 per cent of the older respondents shared that concern.

This survey also found that retirees and working adults tend to perceive themselves as more mentally resilient than non-working adults and students do.

A higher percentage of retirees (55 per cent) and working adults (46 per cent) reported being able to handle unpleasant emotions such as sadness, fear and anger, compared with non-working adults (31 per cent) and students (35 per cent).

Furthermore, the survey found that students were more likely to report having anxious thoughts and preoccupations than adults and retirees.

Just 15 per cent of retirees think about things that they cannot change, compared with 38 per cent among working adults, 44 per cent among non-working adults and 53 per cent among students.

Lastly, men are generally more likely to report attributes of perceived mental resilience, such as being able to stay calm in difficult situations (47 per cent), relative to women (38 per cent).

Associate Professor John Wong Chee Meng, director of the NUHS Mind Science Centre and the lead clinician in the two surveys, said the social isolation during circuit breaker contributed to increased anxiety among some Singaporeans.

Uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last and how the economic fallout will play out also made them more anxious.

The survey results showed that the impact on mental health is more keenly felt by certain segments of the population; particularly young people, working women and those working from home, he said.

An interesting finding was that those working at home can be more stressed out than those working on the front lines of the pandemic, he said. Furthermore, women working from home can be even more stressed than men, which he attributed to women tending to hold more conventional "domestic leadership".

The added responsibilities when they are working from home culminates in a higher level of stress and anxiety, he said.

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"More importantly, as a social system, how do we support our female gender to be able to manage this multi roles. Post-Covid-19, how do we move the other group, the male gender, to take on more responsibilities," he said.

While young people may not worry a lot about getting sick from the coronavirus, they are not immune to other effects of the pandemic.

An online survey that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted in April showed that the biggest concerns of people aged 15 to 24 are the toll of the pandemic on their mental health, employment prospects and education.

Prof Wong said that for younger people and in general, this pandemic is a good exercise in resilience-building.

"The pandemic offers most countries a very unique 'stress inoculation' exercise. The learning experience is almost akin to developing antibodies to an illness... The inoculation effect will be very positive, though the level of immunity will vary," he said.

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