Recent research has shown that record numbers of people are unable to return to work due to ill health. As the director of the Institute for Employment Studies states, “this is now the largest number of people out of the labour market due to long-term health problems that we have ever seen.” This includes both mental and physical health, and as we have recently found ourselves in a crisis of the former it is important to reflect on why this might be. As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, it is all the more relevant to consider the reasons behind the current decline in mental health. Though the causes are varied, we do spend about 60-70% of our waking hours working, so it’s worthwhile looking at how some approaches to this large portion of our lives could be adding to our problems.
The necessity for remote working that appeared 3 years ago has translated into today’s society where many people have opted for remote and hybrid working. However, the ‘convenience’ of working from home tends to overshadow the negative effects it can actually have. Data shows that up to 80% of UK workers feel that working from home has negatively impacted their mental health. Isolation, infrequent social interactions with colleagues, and a lack of routine feed into declining mental health. You may be able to lie in bed for an extra thirty minutes, but what are you risking for this benefit? One survey showed that 81% of under-35s feared loneliness from remote working, and studies have shown heightened levels of stress and anxiety since the societal shift to home-based working. Though the idea of working from home sounds appealing, there are drawbacks which people often overlook.
Mental health is not the only victim of remote working. 48% of remote workers report musculoskeletal problems that have appeared since working from home. This is largely due to location and setup. Most homes aren’t designed to be places of work, and therefore the facilities available don’t meet the standards, nor requirements, of a workplace. Many people work from their sofas or kitchen tables, one of which aids in comfort but not posture and body placement, and the other which does the opposite; both promote back and neck pains, and neither is built for work purposes. An office is a dedicated space designed for specific needs and is tried and tested by employees. Most people will not have a similar, nor appropriate space in which to achieve their job without compromising their physical health.
It is important to remember that remote working does suit some people, however being aware of the large number of those who have found it to negatively impact them is also crucial. Where home working can perpetuate loneliness, an office gives you interaction with colleagues, and real chances for collaboration; where your sofa or kitchen table plays havoc with your back and neck, office chairs are dedicated to supporting you and computers are positioned at optimum height; and finally, where your bed is only 30 seconds away while working remotely, office-working makes the return to home all the more appealing and rewarding at the end of the day.
However, if you are working from home, do ensure that you optimise your workspace by checking you have a comfortable yet firm chair, your computer is in the ideal position, and you take regular breaks. Also, check online for resources and tips to encourage better mental health and utilise any path which might help. You are the most important consideration when deciding if remote, hybrid, or office-based working suits you best, put yourself first and do the research before jumping at the chance to stay at home.