Working From Home as A Millennial: The Good, The Bad, and The Questionable


Work From Home: a once novel idea that has become a necessity for most of us since the pandemic. Given that there was so little time for us to make the transition from working in the office to working from our beds (for some of us), it begs the question — how have we been coping?

A simple Google search will lead to a myriad of articles discussing the pros and cons of working from home, or tips on how to mitigate some of the stresses caused by working from home, as well as how to maintain a work-life balance when work and rest are seemingly intertwined.

The good

I was asked to start working from home immediately after the circuit breaker was announced, back in early April. I remember the flurry and panic that seized the office after PM Lee’s address, where the whole nation was going into lockdown. Everyone was scrambling to cart their work desks home, and we all jokingly bade farewell to one another — “See you in a month!”

To me, working from home meant relishing in the frivolous perks, such as being able to sleep in, not having to put on makeup, and get dressed for the day. I could simply roll out of bed, turn on my computer, and start the day. Not having to participate in the early-morning jostle to board the train was a plus as well.

The bad

Well, those tiny joys soon faded away when I found myself beset with bigger issues pertaining to my mental wellbeing. Naturally, not having to leave the house caused the days to become a blur, and there was no clear demarcation between work and rest. There was no such thing as leaving my work behind in the office, and dealing with it the next day. I found myself wondering if I could “start working on articles” way after working hours, which resulted in a lot of unintentional late nights. It got to a point where it would happen even during the weekends.

Mentally, I could not “log off” from work, no matter how hard I tried. There always seemed to be pockets of time where I felt the urge to work. In hindsight, maybe that was my method of coping with my rapidly declining mental health — more on that later.

Occasionally, I would also be bombarded with work-related meetings and texts, which would sometimes be as late as 1 a.m.

The questionable

The constant surveillance that my workplace demanded didn’t help as well, even when we worked from home. We were made to download a timer on our computers, which would track the number of hours that we “clocked in” every day. We were also supposed to religiously key in the exact tasks we were currently working on, and the programme would capture screenshots of our monitors every 30 minutes. Even lunch times had to be dutifully accounted for — one hour, no more, no less.

The rationale behind these measures was that management wanted to know that we remained “productive” even though we were no longer coming into the office. During the company’s weekly meetings, management would emphasise that times are hard, and therefore we had to work harder to make sure that we would survive. There were also frequent comments about us not working hard enough, and not wanting to “endure hardship” because we were “strawberries” — a term millenials are often subjected to. The only problem was that “hard work” was measured in terms of the number of hours we clocked in on that dreaded timer. Otherwise, it was never enough.

It was tough. Knowing that I was constantly monitored, while I was sitting in the comfort of my own room — a place that I deemed ‘safe’ — was unbearable. It’s not that I wasn’t doing what was required of me, I just wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being watched all the time.

Not being able to leave the house (save for exercising and grocery shopping) increased the feelings of suffocation.

Descend into darkness

Having been diagnosed with anxiety and depression prior, being in such a situation naturally aggravated my condition. I woke up feeling exhausted every day, and there seemed to be no escape for this painful predicament I was stuck in. I spent many days unable to get out of bed, while at the same time feeling guilty for not being as productive I’d hoped to be.

The prolonged stress and anxiety led to an increased number of depressive episodes, which further impeded my ability to “work hard”. I felt like I was stuck in this conundrum of darkness, with no plausible way out.

I reached a breaking point in early June, where I attempted to take my life on two occasions. Thankfully, there weren’t any serious consequences, save for stern warnings from my therapist and doctor.

The real issues at hand

So, that’s my story. (For those concerned, yes I’m in a much better place now.) Although I have been getting the necessary mental health treatment for my anxiety and depression, there are still some issues that I’d like to raise about working from home as a millennial.

It’s not that I’m not willing to “go through suffering”, or that I’m a “strawberry”

I’m fully aware that as a working adult, there are certain standards of professionalism that have to be adhered to, and there will always be work that needs to be done. But, where should the line be drawn?

Just this year, labour MP Melvin Yong tried to promulgate a “Right to Disconnect” law that would protect employees’ time to rest and recharge, in a bid to improve employees’ mental health in a period where most are working from home.

However, his suggestion was rebutted by Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Zaqy Mohamad, who said that such a rigid enforcement of the boundary between work and personal life might impede some workers, who enjoy the flexibility of caring for their children, running errands in the day and working at night.

Workplace burnout is “key priority”

Nonetheless, Yong has insisted on protecting employees’ wellbeing during these trying times, and he expressed that he hopes to see the COVID-19 Mental Wellness Taskforce— an initiative by the Ministry of Health and the Institute of Mental Health — tackle workplace burnout as a “key priority”.

In April, an inter-agency advisory on supporting the mental health and well-being of workers under COVID-19 work arrangements was published as a guide for employers. A Tripartite Advisory on Mental Health is also due to be published at the end of the year, which includes initiatives for companies to emulate, such as external counselling services, and training supervisors to identify mental health issues. It also contains a list of external resources that employers can consider to provide support to workers.

Can there be room for listening and understanding?

I’m not asking for my workload to be lessened. Many times, all we need is some form of understanding, whether its with regard to mental illnesses or simply our different working styles. Sometimes, we just work differently from our older colleagues, and it’s not that we’re skiving on the job. Not willing to conform to age-old routines doesn’t negate the fact that we’re equally effective employees.

I acknowledge that my work from home experience may be vastly different from others’, but government recommendations aside, perhaps it would still be helpful for employers to better understand their employees’ individual struggles with working from home. Be it mental health struggles, or having to juggle parenting or caregiving duties — there’s always room for listening and understanding.

Trust that I can (and will) do my job

As a millennial (and a junior employee), being thrust into the workplace at such a time like this will naturally call for unprecedented measures, and the creation of new workplace habits and routines that are new to all. But my lack of experience does not mean that I am not willing to put in my fair share of work, or go through the relevant training that my role requires of me. Understand that I too, am human.




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