Working from home creates significant physical and mental challenges

flexible workingThe Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has published a series of interim findings from the first COVID-19 homeworker wellbeing study, looking at how working from home for an extended period is affecting the UK workforce. These initial findings depict a worrying snapshot of the declining mental and physical health of many homeworkers.

The interim survey findings captured during the first two weeks of the lockdown have been analysed to produce a preliminary picture of how homeworking is affecting both the physical and mental wellbeing of a new army of UK homeworkers.

Within the first two weeks of the mandated lockdown there has been a significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints. More than half of the survey respondents reported new aches and pains, especially in the neck (58 per cent), shoulder (56 per cent) and back (55 per cent), compared to their normal physical condition.

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Diet and exercise are on the wane with one fifth (20 per cent) of respondents admitting to an increase in alcohol consumption, while a third (33 per cent) are eating a less healthy diet, and over half (60 per cent) acknowledging that they are exercising less.

Poor sleep and increased risk of exhaustion are also cause for concern. The majority of respondents reported a loss of sleep due to worry (64 per cent); and corresponding increased symptoms of fatigue (60 per cent), possibly as a consequence of nearly half (48 per cent) reporting working patterns that include long and irregular hours.

The mental health of survey respondents depicts a workforce with a lot on its mind. Half of all respondents (50 per cent) reported not being happy with their current work-life balance; a third (33 per cent) frequently feel isolated; over a fifth (21 per cent) are worried about job security, while just under half (41 per cent) harbour health concerns for family members.

Survey architect and IES Head of HR Research Development, Stephen Bevan said:  “These interim findings paint a picture of a new homeworking workforce that faces significant physical and mental wellbeing challenges.

“Employers need to recognise they are still responsible for the wellbeing of their staff, even when working from home, and there are a number of steps they can take to improve employee wellbeing.”

Based on initial survey findings, IES recommends that employers:

  • Make sure the home ‘office’ set-up is safe and ergonomic and that employees are mobile and take exercise.
  • Provide mental health support via informal messaging groups, virtual coffee mornings, access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and regular contact with management and colleagues.
  • Focus on ‘high risk’ groups by identifying employees with financial concerns, eldercare, those struggling to adjust, those prone to feelings of isolation and those at risk of domestic abuse.
  • Rethink performance targets and monitoring, involve employees in decisions about reorganising work and reallocating tasks and priorities.

The interim findings have been drawn from the initial 500 respondents to the survey. The IES Working at Home Wellbeing Survey remains open for the duration of April. Researchers will monitor the results to track changes in working patterns.