How Peer Support Workers Navigated Work-Life Boundaries During COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to how we work and live, especially for those in the mental health sector. Peer Support Workers (PSWs), who provide essential support to individuals with mental health challenges, faced unique struggles as their roles shifted to remote work. A recent study sheds light on the work-life boundary challenges PSWs face and the strategies they employ to manage these challenges.

The Study’s Findings:

The study delved into the experiences of PSWs as they adapted to remote work during the pandemic. It revealed three major areas of concern: temporal boundaries, physical space, and task management.

  1. Segmenting Work and Non-Work Time: PSWs must balance work responsibilities with personal life commitments. Negotiations with managers to adjust work schedules were common, especially for those dealing with increased workloads and family obligations. Many PSWs set strict time parameters for work and non-work activities to ensure a healthy work-life balance.
  2. Segmenting Work and Non-Work Physical Space at Home: Establishing a clear separation between workspace and personal space was crucial for PSWs. While some had the luxury of dedicated home offices, others used symbolic markers or specific furniture to designate work zones. The physical separation aimed to prevent the spillover of work into personal life.
  3. Integrating Domains Partially: While most PSWs aimed to segment their work and personal lives, some allowed limited overlap. This often took the form of answering work-related calls during personal time or discussing personal matters during work-related interactions.

Work-life Implications for Public Health Practitioners:

The study’s findings have important implications for public health practitioners, especially those in mental health organizations:

  1. Flexible Work Policies: Public health organizations should consider implementing flexible work policies that cater to individual needs. Recognizing that not everyone’s situation is the same, offering options such as adjusted work hours or part-time arrangements can alleviate work-life boundary challenges.
  2. Resource Allocation: Resources such as ergonomic home office setups and technical support are essential for remote workers. Organizations should ensure employees have the tools to establish effective workspaces at home.
  3. Support for Mental Well-being: Given the nature of their work, mental health practitioners need to prioritize their well-being. Encouraging self-care and providing resources for stress management can help prevent burnout and ensure workers can effectively support others.
  4. Addressing Gender Dynamics: Recognize that work-life balance challenges might differ based on gender dynamics. Organizations should be attentive to potential disparities and tailor support accordingly.
  5. Training on Boundary Management: Providing training on effective boundary management and time management techniques can empower employees to navigate their work and personal lives successfully.

Conclusion:

The study underscores the need for a holistic approach to work-life balance, especially for mental health professionals. By acknowledging the challenges faced by PSWs and implementing strategies to support their well-being, public health practitioners can ensure that these essential workers can continue to provide high-quality care while maintaining their health and happiness.

Source

Mirbahaeddin, E., Chreim, S. Work-life boundary management of peer support workers when engaging in virtual mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative case study. BMC Public Health 23, 1623 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-16488-9

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