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How Working From Home Affects Physical and Mental Health

Carola is an entrepreneur and freelance writer. She has worked in the business world as administrative support for many years.

As a writer who works from home, I chuckled at an advertisement for a video conferencing service. It showed a camera view of a 30-something woman trying to have a meeting online.

She sets up in her bedroom only to have two giggling kids enter and romp on her bed. She moves to her outdoor patio but is interrupted by the sound of a roaring lawnmower. She seemed OK in her kitchen until her husband walked by in his underwear. In the next scene, the lady finally signals a thumbs up – from her garage.

Many of us can relate to minor irritations, interruptions, and embarrassing moments that come with working remotely. More people than ever are working from home. According to Forbes, employers observed that remote staff were as productive as before and got their jobs done without major obstacles. Some companies are closing down their offices and are adapting their operations to include more remote workers in their future.

Many remote employees enjoy the convenience of not commuting, the ability to prep meals and do housework, being able to book medical and home repair appointments during the day, and being home with the kids. Other workers, however, prefer a traditional workplace environment.

According to Working from Home: Making the New Normal Work, author Karen Mangia says that working from home is a dramatic shift that requires "different mental muscles."

As the number of remote employees grows over time, researchers have been investigating how this lifestyle affects their mental and physical health. According to a study by the University of Southern California, working from home:

  • Can have a negative impact on workers' physical and mental health
  • Increases work expectations
  • Lessens productivity over time when contact with co-workers is reduced
  • Increases time spent at workstations by approximately 1.5 hours
  • Decreases job satisfaction
  • Impacts female workers with an annual salary of less than 100K; they are more likely to experience new physical and mental issues than their male counterparts or other workers with higher incomes

Negative Physical Effects of Work from Home

Disruptions and Changes in Routine

At first, remote work may appeal to employees because they do not need to commute, have fewer interruptions from co-workers, and more time with their families. However, not all workers prefer to work from home. Some are uncomfortable with being on camera for meetings and consultations. It may be difficult for workers to separate their work and home life.

Many employees are spending an additional 1.5 hours and longer periods at their workstations. They often have to adjust their work hours or change their schedules to accommodate other workers. These employees are more likely to report physical or mental health problems. Like the poor woman in the commercial, nearly half of at-home employees do not have a dedicated workspace at home.

An Increase in Physical Issues

Workers may have difficulty keeping to a schedule and taking breaks. They may put in longer hours than they would in a company office. More than half of workers report experiencing one or more new physical problems such as neck pain.

Eating More, Exercising Less

Remote workers tend to do less physical activity or exercise. At the same time, their overall food intake may increase. These factors could be detrimental to their wellbeing. Homes may not have proper ergonomic furniture and supports, putting workers at a higher risk of musculoskeletal problems in the arms, shoulders, and arms.

Negative Mental Effects of Work from Home

Loneliness and Isolation

Some people enjoy working remotely, but some do not. Some workers experience a decline in mental wellbeing, job satisfaction, motivation, and satisfaction with the company. Some dislike the isolation and miss interacting with their co-workers. Researchers have linked a sense of disconnection with loneliness, somatic symptoms, depression, and anxiety. It is difficult to build relationships with co-workers or touch base with them outside of work.

More Stress and the Risk of Burnout

I feel stressed when I pass my computer and feel pressured to work whenever I can. I tend to keep chugging away at projects for long periods without breaks. At times, I would feel so tired that I was on the edge of burnout.

New Mental Issues

Three-quarters of at-home workers experience new mental health challenges. Female workers have higher rates of depression. Parents and caregivers tend to have better mental wellbeing overall despite stresses such as struggling for work-life balance but may be at an increased risk of mental problems.

Overcoming the Negative Impact of Work at Home

The book Work From Home Hacks by Aja Frost offers useful tips on how to deal with the challenges of remote work. There are several ways that workers can mitigate these negative effects of working at home.

A Dedicated Workspace

Having a dedicated workspace sends the message to family members of employees that workers are busy and should not be interrupted. A door that closes helps to physically and mentally separate work and family life. Job satisfaction and productivity can be increased in environments with:

A Comfortable and Suitable Environment

The workspace should have:

  • proper lighting and a comfortable temperature
  • A wide desk that supports elbows, wrists, and arms can help to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome
  • a chair that supports the neck, back, and spine properly
  • Ergonomically viable furniture and tools such as comfortable chairs that ease neck or back pain
  • Tools such as computer glasses - prescription glasses that filter out blue light from computers

Set Boundaries

Employers can help workers by setting work hours and ensuring employees keep to them, except for special circumstances. Employer emails sent late at night may stress out workers, who feel they must respond outside office hours. Workers can set realistic goals and focus on them rather than being overwhelmed by projects. They may need to say “no” at times to maintain a work-life balance.

Taking Break Times

Mandatory break times can be scheduled away from the strain of sitting too long and digital screens. Fun activities can be stress-busters. Employees should also set time for exercise such as riding a bike, yoga, walking, and heart-pumping aerobics. Exercise can lower anxiety levels and lift depression. Time spent out walking in nature can lower blood pressure and stress levels.

Ensure Regular Contact With the Company and Co-Workers

Two or three employees checking in regularly may be more effective than impersonal large group video calls. This action and regular online meetings keep workers in the loop and make them feel supported.

Reach Out for Support

Workers should monitor any troubling symptoms and seek the help of doctors or mental health professionals, if needed.

References:

Study finds over 64% of people reported new health issues during 'work from home,' University of Southern California

Why Work-From-Home Might Not Work: The Looming Risk For Employers, Forbes, Jon Picoult
For some, working from home can cause ‘loneliness, isolation and depressive symptoms,’ Global News, Meghan Collie
Working From Home Is Disliked By And Bad For Most Employees, Say Researchers, Forbes, Benjamin Laker
How To Keep Your Mental Health in Check When You Work From Home, weworkremotely.com
Remote working is starting to show tears. But going back to office isn’t only solution, The Print, Scott Latham and Beth Huberd

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Carola Finch

Comments

jacqklin from ITALY on December 17, 2020:

Great article..can relate to the aches and pains and isolation though I am an introvert and thrive on being alone I can see how this can harm other types of people. And if you have pets or kids i can see how that would distract you greatly. Never thought of these things, thanks for your insight.