Survey reveals health impacts of home working
08 February 2021
WITH WORKING from home set to continue for millions of UK workers, research by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) shows that there are key health and wellbeing disparities between different groups of people who made the move to home working as a result of Covid-19.
- Overall, more people felt working from home was better for their health and wellbeing (45%), compared to around one third (29%) who thought working from home was worse for their health and wellbeing
- However, people who switched to working from home as a result of Covid-19 had experienced health and wellbeing impacts, with the most common being feeling less connected to colleagues (67%), taking less exercise (46%), developing musculoskeletal problems (39%) and disturbed sleep (37%)
- Over one in four (26%) are working from home from either a sofa or a bedroom
- Nearly half (48%) of people who work from a sofa or bedroom said they had developed musculoskeletal problems and nearly two thirds (59%) said they felt more isolated from their colleagues
- Women were more likely than men to feel isolated (58% of women V 39% of men) and develop musculoskeletal problems (44% of women V 29% of men) as a result of working from home
- Home working is having an impact on people’s mental health, with 67% saying they felt less connected to their colleagues and 56% saying they found it harder to switch off. However only a third of respondents had been offered support with their mental health (34%) from their employer.
- People who live with multiple housemates were more likely to think that working from home was worse for their health and wellbeing (41%), compared to people who live on their own (29%) or with just their partner (24%)
The findings of the survey also showed that the vast majority of people didn’t want to go back to working in an office full time, with nearly three quarters of people (74%) saying that they wanted to split their time between home working and working in an office. However, the health and wellbeing issues which are affecting home workers and the fact that some groups of people are impacted more severely than others needs to be addressed by employers.
To tackle the health and wellbeing issues that people are experiencing as a result of working from home, RSPH is calling for:
- Employers to ensure that all employees have access to mental health support to help them to cope with increased isolation and anxiety
- All employees to have access to equipment and a remote assessment to support them with their physical health
- Organisations to develop a culture that encourages employees to separate their work and home life when working from home, including encouraging employees to block their work communications outside of work hours
Christina Marriott, chief executive of RSPH said, “Our findings reveal that although working from home can be beneficial for people’s health and wellbeing, there are stark differences in how different groups have been affected. For people who have multiple housemates or are working from their bedroom or a sofa, the impact on their mental and physical health is extremely concerning and something we believe that employers need to address.
“The changes in the way that millions of people are working has the potential for employers to rethink how they are supporting their employee’s mental and physical health. Some form of home working is likely to continue for millions of people and we urge employers to take the necessary steps to ensure their staff can work from home as safely and healthily as possible.”
Simon Blake, CEO Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England said, “Flexible and home-working practices can have huge benefits for employee wellbeing when managed effectively, but they should not remain a privilege for those whose homes are already conducive to work. With most of us wanting to continue to work from home in some capacity, it’s the responsibility of employers to ensure any potential disparities are acknowledged and accounted for.
“We join RSPH in calling on employers to commit to protecting their people by encouraging positive and healthy remote working routines, and providing clear remote access to appropriate mental health support services and resources. Everyone should have the right to good mental health and wellbeing, and the best employers will set up their workforces not only to cope, but to thrive as we move out of the pandemic.
“This starts with finding a balance between keeping their staff connected to their organisation, while empowering them to establish and maintain boundaries to help prevent burnout or harmful working practices. At MHFA England we created free mental health resources for remote working as part of our My Whole Self campaign, with advice on creating routines, building movement and exercise into your day, and connecting authentically with colleagues.”
Lisa Artis, deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity said, “It comes as no surprise to hear that home working has affected some people’s sleep. It can often be a struggle to keep boundaries in place and stick to a regular routine which has a knock on effect on sleep.
“It’s important that when people are working from home that, where possible, they do try to avoid working from the sofa or bedroom. This is because these two areas are often used for relaxing and it’s being mindful that you don’t associate these areas with feeling of being stressed. Plus, while they may seem appealing, they are usually not good for your posture or productivity.
“Ideally workplaces need to make provisions for people to work from home and encourage employees to not work out of hours so that they have the opportunity to wind down before bedtime. We have a host of resources on our website for workplaces to access but also if anyone is struggling with their sleep.”
Ian Lambert, marketing director of Silentnight said, “We are proud to support the work of RSPH, and in particular, their focus on championing the public’s health and wellbeing at this challenging time. Sleep is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health and yet it is often overlooked and its importance underestimated.
"We know that during the pandemic, people have been finding it more difficult to get a good night’s rest. Employers and individuals need to keep this in mind and we recommend RSPH’s online course, ‘Understanding Sleep: Don’t Hit Snooze on your Health' for anyone who is struggling with their sleeping patterns.”