July 30th, 2021
The health impact of working from home and what you can do about it
According to the Office for National Statistics, 36% of the employed adult population worked from home at some point during 2020. London recorded the highest proportion of homeworking individuals at 48%, while rural Scotland, Burnley, and Middlesbrough recorded the lowest with fewer than 14%.
As we approach the end of lockdown, companies across the country are adopting various policies for employees going forward. Some are insisting on a full return to the office while others are allowing their workers to stay at home and choose where they work.
Working from home has raised physical health issues, such as aches and pains and eye strain, while also taking a toll on some people’s mental health. There are also issues with some workers being unable to switch off after the workday, with the line between work and leisure blurred when doing both in the same place.
Despite this, many companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, are adopting a permanent work from home approach. Going forward, only 39% of workers have no interest in working from home at all, YouGov reports.
If you’re worried about the health impact of working from home, read on for some useful tips on how to look after your physical and mental wellbeing.
There are benefits and drawbacks to the work-from-home model
When it comes to the pandemic, no two people have been affected in identical ways. The same can be said for each person’s response to homeworking.
The lack of a commute and increased flexibility around work hours has proven vital for many, especially during these unpredictable times. A reduced number of commuters also reduces the number of vehicles on the road and thus reduces harmful emissions.
Workers are also able to fully customise their work environment, allowing themselves the freedom to bring some vibrance and personality to their home office. There are also the financial benefits as you no longer have the various expenses of office working, such as petrol, parking charges, and buying lunch out.
But not everyone suits working from home. Some people simply do not have optimal working conditions in their own living space. For some, there are far more distractions in a home setting than in the office, and poor internet connections or small office spaces can only add to the discomfort.
Health problems have also proven to be an issue, with Personnel Today reporting that 37.7% of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) cases were connected to work in 2020. In 2019, this number was just 1.4%. There has also been a significant increase in reports of eye strain, according to a BBC article from February 2021.
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) have conducted research into how working from home has affected the employed population. More participants (45%) thought that working from home was better for their health overall, although 29% thought that it was worse for their health and wellbeing.
Common negative responses to working from home include feeling less connected to colleagues, losing sleep, or aches and pains.
MSD issues can be mitigated through your office set up
Of the downsides reported, musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are certainly among the most irritating. Keyboard work accounts for about 11.3% of MSD cases, with employees using makeshift workstations and unsupportive chairs in their new home offices.
To help correct some of the pain you may be experiencing, try changing position or moving where you work in your home every hour or so. You could also get up at least every half hour.
Also, consider investing in a supportive office chair and dedicated work desk if you do not already have them. Working from a sofa or bed can ruin your posture and cause severe lower back pain, which could follow you through your later years if not addressed.
If you are experiencing any new pain, consider speaking to your GP or physiotherapist for expert advice on the situation.
Eye strain can be caused by screens and blue light
With a sustained focus on screens throughout our workday, reports of eye strain have increased. Taking a break to chat to your colleague is a thing of the past, with office conversations now happening via Slack, email, or Zoom.
Electronic device screens emit blue light, which is linked with sleep disruption and increased cellular damage. To combat the damage screens may be doing, use a physical notepad when writing notes from a meeting, or look away while typing.
Alternatively, there has been a recent market surge of blue light filtering glasses, which can be worn to reduce the effects of screens on your eyes. Though they may be uncomfortable when worn with a headset, they could help reduce any pain you may be experiencing.
The BBC report that somewhere between 22% and 38% of workers believe their sight has worsened in lockdown. Focusing on objects over 20 metres away for 20 seconds regularly can help relax your muscles, as does increasing the text size on your screen.
Mental health issues are common, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of them
Until recently, mental health was an almost taboo subject. With widespread media campaigns and huge awareness boosts in recent years, mental health is finally being treated with the urgency it deserves.
When working in isolation, it is not uncommon for workers to feel separated, lonely, and unmotivated. The RSPH state that women are more likely to feel isolated than men, with 67% of workers overall saying that they feel less connected with their colleagues.
With people also working more hours and struggling to switch off at the end of the workday, stress and anxiety levels are increasing.
If you feel as though you are struggling with mental health, it is nothing to be ashamed of. The mental health charity Mind have discussed just how common mental health struggles can be, with one in four Brits experiencing a mental health problem of some kind each year.
Therapy is an increasingly available option, and it may even be available with your company’s health plan, if you have one. If not, there are always options online or available through your GP.
Ensuring you have plenty of breaks and trying to keep your workspace entirely separate to the rest of your home might be crucial in separating yourself from your job. Staying connected with colleagues and external friends via messaging services and phone calls is also vital to keeping a positive outlook.
But sometimes, it isn’t that easy. If you need someone to talk to, the contact us page on Mind’s website can provide you with any details you may need.
Get in touch