Working from home can bring big health benefits, study finds | Working from home

Working from home can bring big health benefits, study finds | Working from home

Working from home allows people to eat more healthily, feel less stressed and have lower blood pressure, according to a large-scale review of academic literature on post-pandemic workplaces.

Yet remote workers are also more likely to eat snacks, drink more, smoke more and put on weight, the study by researchers at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and King’s College London found. And employers who believe that people working from home are lazy should think again – they are less likely to take time off sick, tend to work longer hours and to work evenings and weekends.

The review, led by Charlotte Hall from the UKHSA, considered 1,930 academic papers on home working, teleworking and other types of hybrid and home working in an effort to distil the often contradictory research.

Prof Neil Greenberg, a psychiatrist at King’s College London and one of the study’s authors, said the study showed that workers and employers needed to start considering home working with the same seriousness as they did office working.

“In the old days of office working, people realised that if you put everyone in the same room with no sound-proofing, it was all unpleasant and you didn’t have a very productive workforce,” he said.

“Now that we’ve shifted to a home working culture, it makes sense for organisations and the government to make sure that people who are home working are doing it in as effective a way as possible.”

The review, published in the Journal of Occupational Health, identified three themes – the working environment at home, the effect on workers’ lives and careers, and the effect on their health. Greenberg said the research showed that there were winners and losers in many areas of home working. The working environment depended on how much space there was at home, the available equipment and on how much control workers had over their day.

People on higher incomes often enjoyed home working more, but those with more responsibilities at home such as childcare or housework – often women and those living alone – tended to be more stressed.

“Overall, people felt more productive at home,” Greenberg said. “It was particularly good for creative things, but much more difficult dealing with tedious matters. A lot of people worried about career prospects – this feeling that if you’re not present in the office, you’re going to get overlooked.”

Effects on health were clearer. The transition to home working during Covid was linked “with an increase in intake of vegetables, fruit, dairy, snacks, and self-made meals; younger workers and females benefited the most in terms of healthier eating,” the paper said.

One of the studies reviewed found that 46.9% of employees working from home had gained weight, and another put the figure at 41%. Most of the papers reviewed showed that homeworkers were more sedentary.

Greenberg said: “Managers needed to think about finding ways to support their homeworkers and help create their working environment.

“There’s a great adage in science that at some point, we need to stop admiring the problem and actually think about solutions,” he said. “We know quite a lot now. So we need to ask ‘what is the best training for an individual who’s going to become a partial homeworker?’ What we don’t need to do is to ask ‘would it be helpful to train someone to homework?’ The answer is clearly yes.”

Since the end of Covid restrictions in 2022, some companies have insisted that employees return to the office full-time, with firms such as JP Morgan requiring managers to be in five days a week.

“If companies like JP Morgan are afraid that people at home will be slacking, or won’t be doing a good job, and they can’t keep an eye on them, then I think that is an outdated concept,” Greenberg said.

Refusing WFH options will mean that talented employees may find other jobs, and makes companies less flexible in the event of future crises, such as another health emergency or strikes or severe weather conditions that prevent people from reaching their offices, he added.

“If they are doing it merely out of fear, then they risk being left behind,” he said. “We looked at a huge amount of evidence of the years and what our review shows is that there are ways to make the home working approach actually work well for the organisation and also for the employee.”

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