Employee health already decreasing due to remote working

Workers are already suffering from health issues due to the switch to remote working, according to an Institute for Employment Studies (IES) interim survey

More than half of respondents to the Working at Home Wellbeing Survey reported new aches and pains, particularly in the neck (58%), shoulder (56%), and back (55%) compared to their normal physical condition.

Diet and exercise have also been impacted, with 20% of respondents drinking more alcohol and over half (60%) admitting they have exercised less.

HR should also watch out for poor sleep and increased risk of exhaustion due to 64% of respondents reporting a loss of sleep due to worry and increased symptoms of fatigue (60%).

The mental health impacts of isolation and a workforce dealing with lots of external concerns meant 50% were not happy with their current work-life balance, a third (33%) frequently feeling isolated and over a fifth (21%) worried about job security.

Stephen Bevan, IES head of HR research development, said: “These interim findings paint a picture of a new home working 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.”

The IES made a series of recommendations for employers including making sure home ‘offices’ were set-up so they are safe and ergonomic and to provide mental health support via regular contact with management and colleagues.

Employers should also focus on ‘high risk’ groups by identifying employees with financial concerns, elderly, those struggling to adjust and those prone to feeling isolated or at risk of domestic abuse.

Performance targets and monitoring should also be reconsidered by involving employees in decisions about reorganising work and priorities.

Marc Sanders, chiropractor and member of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), shared some tips for HR professionals to pass on to their employees.

He said: “Whilst self-isolation doesn’t necessarily cause back and neck pain, the sedentary habits can lead to, or the new activities and routines we pick up can certainly exacerbate it.

“If it’s your first time adjusting to working from home, make sure your workspace is set up to support a comfortable position. This is different for everyone, so if you don’t feel comfortable in your current set up, try altering the height of your chair or screen so the latter is at eye level.

“Your back loves to stay active. Try and move around every 20-30 minutes. An easy trick is to stand up every time you take a phone call or setup your laptop at a higher height such as on a shelf so you can stand during a Zoom video conference”

The BCA has developed a programme of three-minute online exercises which can be slotted into your daily routine to prevent back pain.

The IES survey asked 500 respondents and will remain open during April in order for the IES to track changes to working patterns.