Escaping with Gaming: the pandemic pursuit of a work/life balance

In this article written exclusively for Business Leader, award-winning psychologist and Founder of PhenomGames, Lee Chambers discusses the effect of gaming for helping workers switch off in the era of remote work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed numerous unforeseen challenges for UK businesses over the last two years. The transition to remote working (which had to happen as quickly as overnight for some sectors) was a primary one.

Figures throughout the first and second national lockdowns showed UK employees were not faring too well with the various challenges transitioning to remote working had created. Some of the mental health challenges commonly reported include loneliness, from not being able to interact as regularly with other colleagues, anxiety, stress, and consequently burnout from working longer hours than usual. However, these issues may not always be evident, with many employees reporting pressure to mask such challenges, a phenomenon dubbed ‘pleasanteeism’.

Many of these have not gone unacknowledged by employers and over the last two years, businesses have gotten better at effectively meeting their employees’ various mental health needs. For example, recent figures from the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) show that overall, more employees felt working from home was better for their health and wellbeing (45%) than around one third (29%) who thought working from home was worse for their health and wellbeing.

This suggests that some employees are faring better than others when it comes to their mental wellbeing, whilst remote working, is something employers should be mindful of as they seek to support employees in an age of hybrid working. Tech has played an important part in empowering employees to look after themselves and prioritise their mental health during the last two years. Immersive hobbies such as gaming have helped many combat workplace stress and perhaps also provide an opportunity for employers to be more creative with the wellbeing support they provide.

Empowered by tech

Employees increasingly embrace technology to help them unwind and deal with work stress. Digital transformation has been the buzzword in many business circles over the last two years, but businesses are not the only ones using technology to operate better. Individuals across the nation have been using tech to tackle various pandemic-related mental health challenges faced in their personal lives.

These activities vary from using dedicated apps to learn about mindfulness, joining online support groups or events via Zoom, or even reaching new fitness goals with the help of a smartwatch. This has coincided over the last two years with a national conversation around mental health which has helped people become more aware of and open about common challenges people face.

Gaming on the rise

Lee Chambers

Lee Chambers

Recent research from smartphone brand OPPO shows that gaming is also on that list and has become an increasingly important part of our lives over the pandemic – with nearly one in five people (18%) in the UK reported to be gaming daily. One motivation fuelling this is the need for relaxation and comfort. The pandemic has pushed anxiety levels across the nation to an all-time high. Hobbies like gaming are helping people regain that sense of control and providing a form of escapism. The same research confirms this, with much of the British public stating that gaming helps them manage stress (40%) and relax (33%.)

With nearly 80% of the population owning smartphones, these devices have played a crucial part in allowing people to easily schedule their daily gaming time. It’s, therefore, no surprise that OPPO’s research shows that mobile is by far the most popular way that people in the UK like to game, with nearly half (47%) of people saying it’s their device of choice for the hobby.

Gaming by phone is convenient and more accessible, with many games available on online stores for free or from as little as 99p. Similarly, because modern life has made smartphones more of a necessity for many people, the devices are always within reach, meaning users, if needed, have a means of de-stressing at hand, whether that be after work or during office and lunch breaks.

For employees, gaming can help address the difficulty in separating work from home life whilst remote working. Pre-pandemic, many employees would associate home with relaxation from a long day of work and de-stress. But now, there is a feeling of always being ‘switched on’ – even if not reachable by laptop, employees can be contacted about work via phone, which leads to longer hours of working than would have taken place in the traditional office setting.

This challenge will likely persist for many people, although various individual methods have been found to address it. Gaming could be one, as once immersed in a game after stepping away from work on your laptop, it helps to create a clear mental marker that work has finished, and personal leisure time can now begin. The same could be said for when commuting home from work whilst hybrid working – opening up a simple phone game whilst on the go can help the mind relax and take its focus away from work.

The future of work and play

As restrictions continue to ease and returning to the office continues for many employees, mental health should be on the radar of business leaders and HR professionals. Of course, employees will always do their best to do what they can within their capacity to relieve workplace stress. However, this should be supported as much as possible by official institutional structures and initiatives that seek to prioritise employees as individuals and help meet and listen to their needs.

As employers seek to organise more in-person group activities to foster a sense of community, this rising popularity of gaming could be something they could utilise. For example, organising team or company-wide leagues or tournaments on popular multiplayer games such as Mario Kart or Scrabble GO could be a great way to create a fun bonding experience and a healthy sense of competition. Thinking outside of the box in such a way will be more crucial for employers as employee needs evolve and require more creative solutions.