People forced to work from home during the pandemic lockdown have suffered feelings of anxiety and isolation, with many reporting fatigue, disturbed sleep and lack of focus, according to the findings of a new report.
Does a mass switch to home working make sense?
The first major survey of how Covid has affected the world of work also reveals that working from home has led to heightened fear of job insecurity among many people and, in some cases, a breakdown of trust between employers and their staff.
Workers also reported workplace injuries caused by spending longer at computer screens with thousands of people forced to work at kitchen tables and on sofas.
The Working from Home Wellbeing Study, conducted by the University of Stirling and workplace consultancy Positive Performance, challenges a growing perception that the mass switch to home working caused by the pandemic lockdown has been an unqualified success.
More than 500 home workers were surveyed by email and follow-up interviews over a three-month period to measure mental and physical wellbeing, ergonomics and employer-employee relationships.
The home schooling factor
Around half of those questioned were also caring for children studying at home during the post-Christmas school lockdown.
More than 70% of those with children who responded to the survey reported working longer hours since the start of lockdown, in April last year, compared with more than 65% of those without children.
Some 60% of those with children said they felt less motivated while working from home compared with 55% among those without.
Stress, exhaustion and loneliness
The report, whose findings have been sent to employers’ organisations and the Scottish Government, showed home workers reporting feelings of loneliness, anxiety, stress and exhaustion, with 65% of those without children feeling more socially isolated compared with 60% of those with children.
Feelings of anxiety were also highest among those with children with almost 60% reporting that working from home made them feel more anxious compared with fewer than half of those without children.
Almost 60% of those with children reported feeling more stressed compared with 40% without.
Over 70% of those with children said they felt more fatigued compared with 60% without.
Of those with children, 55% said they were exercising less and almost half reported that their sleep had been disrupted. The figures for those without children was 50% and 40%.
Time to change?
Wendy Chalmers Mill, chief executive of Stirlingshire-based Positive Performance, said: “There are some significant changes in the pattern of people’s mental health behaviours when working from home, compared to in an office environment.
“Both groups reported experiencing increased fatigue and tiredness since working from home. It was more difficult to manage time and it was reported that people were working longer hours at home compared to when in the office.”
Home has also had a negative impact on people’s perceptions of job security, according to the report.
Of those with children, half said they feared for their jobs and almost half said they had not been told what was expected of them by superiors, compared with 30% and 50% of those without children who reported the same.
Almost 40% of those with children said they did not feel integrated into their workspace, while almost 20% did not feel trusted by their employer. The figures for those without children was 30% and 10%.
The impact of home working on physical health
The study also found a significant number of people have suffered physical pain since working from home.
Of those with children, almost one in ten reported neck pain while one in five said their eyes had been negatively impacted by too much screen time, around the same for those without.
Only around half of those surveyed said they had a home office. One in four of those with children and one in five of those without said they had no designated workstation. Four in ten of those with children said they worked from the kitchen table and one in 20 worked from their sofa. For those without children the figures were 20% and 10%.
Some 70% of those with children said they’d had no workstation assessment compared with 40% of those without.
Researchers Amy Denvir and Leona Clark, psychology students at the University of Stirling, said in their findings: “Primarily, workers without dependants were found to have experienced an increase in pain/physical discomfort since working from home.
“It was noted that eye strain/visual fatigue was the most significant increase in both groups, with approximately one fifth of workers with and without dependant reporting a surge in visual fatigue.
“It was also reported that workers were suffering from more headaches – especially those without dependants – which could be related to the visual fatigue or the increase generally in musculoskeletal skeletal pain.
“In general, it is those without dependants who seemed to have a greater incidence of physical pain. Perhaps this could be explained by the lack of interruptions that those with dependants would have and as a result those without dependants are sitting statically for longer.”