Over 64% of people reported new health issues during 'work from home'

December 13, 2020

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Over 64% of people reported new health issues during 'work from home'

Most readers of TR will know that I’m no fan of the working from home revolution for a slew of reasons. Many of those fears have now been authenticated by some important new research.

A team of researchers set out to discover what impact increased working from home has had on our health. They have found that working from home has negatively impacted our physical health and mental health, increased work expectations and distractions, reduced our communications with co-workers and ultimately lessened our productivity.

The study finds that when working from home, time spent at the workstation increased by approximately 1.5 hours, and that most workers are likely to have less job satisfaction and increased neck pain. Their study also illustrates the differential impact of working from home for men and women, for parents, and those with higher income.

Nearly 1,000 respondents participated in the study which was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Their survey was conducted during the early days of the pandemic. Responses regarding lifestyles, home office environments, and physical and mental well-being revealed the following about that first phase of the pandemic’s “work from home” period:

  • Over 64 percent of respondents claimed to have one or more new physical health issues
  • Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed experienced one new mental health issue
  • Female workers with an annual salary less than $100k were more likely than male workers or workers with higher income to report two or more new physical and mental health issues
  • Female workers had higher incidence of depression
  • Parents with infants tended to have better sense of well-being but also a higher chance of reporting a new mental health issue
  • Having toddlers was associated with physical well-being but also with more physical and mental health issues
  • Living with at least one teenager lowered the risk of new health issues—who would’ve thought?
  • Nearly 3/4 of workers adjusted their work hours and more than 1/3 reported scheduling their work hours around others
  • Workers who adjusted their work hours or schedule work around others were more likely to report new physical or mental health issues
  • Pets did not appear to have an impact on physical or mental health (however see the pet-related findings from a study in last week’s TR).
  • Workers decreased overall physical activity and physical exercise, combined with increased overall food intake
  • Decreased physical and mental well-being was correlated with increased food or junk food intake
  • Only one-third had a dedicated room for their work at home; at least 47. 6 percent shared their workspace with others.

The authors suggest that having a dedicated work from home space would mitigate a number of negative impacts.

What the researchers say: “The quality of your home workspace is important,” said the lead author. “Having a dedicated workspace signals to others that you are busy and minimizes the chances of being distracted and interrupted. Increased satisfaction with the environmental quality factors in your workspace, such as lighting, temperature, is associated with a lower chance of having new health issues. In addition, knowing how to adjust your workspace helps with physical health.”

So, what? Other recent studies (many reported in TR) have shown that being separated from the work “tribe” increases loneliness and depression. These in turn negatively affect the immune system and can lead to numerous health problems.

Humans are simply not designed to work alone and anything that goes against our design specs increases dangerous stress. I worry that working from home is going to lead to more heart disease and a number of stress-related cancers as well as mental health issues.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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