Disparity Begins at Home: How home working is impacting the public’s health

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way that millions of people across the UK work. More people than ever before are using their home office, bedroom or living room as their main workplace and the ‘daily commute’ is how long it takes to walk to your laptop. 

RSPH has released a report looking at how working from home has affected the public’s health and wellbeing. The report includes a snapshot survey of the public who had been working from home for the first time. Just under half of all respondents said that they felt working from home was better for their health and wellbeing, and cited some of the positive aspects of saving money and having a better work/life balance.

However, our survey found that working from home has negatively impacted the mental and physical health of many people, and some are receiving little or no support from their employer.

What's the issue?

Since the first national lockdown in March 2020, millions of people have been working from home for the first time. Our survey of first-time home workers looked into the health issues that people had experienced since making the switch to working from home.

As working from home looks set to continue to be the norm for the foreseeable future, we believe that the mental and physical health of staff needs to be considered a priority by employers.

Does working from home impact our health?

According to our survey, the answer for many people seems to be a resounding yes. Some of the key health issues that were reported by respondents included feeling more isolated from their colleagues, experiencing musculoskeletal problems, eating less healthily and having disturbed or worse quality sleep.

Working in an office provides a separation from work and home, which can help people to switch off and manage their mental health. Working and living in the same space, can mean it's more difficult to separate work and home life and over half of our respondents said they found it difficult to switch off from work and take regular breaks.

Is everyone who works from home experiencing the same health impacts?

Not necessarily. Our survey found that people who had more space to work in (those that worked from a dedicated home office), had fewer people in their house (for example, lived with their partner as opposed to several housemates) or were older than 35, were a lot less likely to report experiencing negative health issues than people who worked from a sofa or were under the age of 35.

 

Only 6% of people

want to go back to working in an office full-time

26% of people

are working from home

from a sofa or a bedroom

Only 34% of people

were offered mental health support from their employer

What mental health support are employers providing?

The support employers are offering their employees to work from home varies. In terms of mental health and wellbeing support, 34% of respondents had been offered a form of mental health guidance like a buddy system or providing tips for managing mental wellbeing. But that is still nearly two-thirds of people not being offered any form of mental health support, which we think isn’t good enough. The full breakdown of support that employees have been offered is outlined in our Disparity Begins at Home report.

What are we calling for?

We want all employees to be offered the support and resources to be able to work from home in a way that looks after their mental and physical wellbeing. We are calling on all employers to offer staff:

  • Some form of mental health support to help them to cope with anxiety and stress – we have some great examples of resources outlined in our report from Mind, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and the Mental Health Network
  • Equipment and an assessment to support them with their physical health – this includes offering employees a remote display screen equipment (DSE) assessment
  • Develop a culture that encourages employees to separate their home and work life – this can be anything from encouraging employees not to answer emails at the weekend and putting in place steps so they can easily switch off their work apps and messages

Christina Marriott, Chief Executive of RSPH said: “Our findings reveal that although working from home can be beneficial for people’s health and wellbeing, there are stark differences in how different groups have been affected. For people who have multiple housemates or are working from their bedroom or a sofa, the impact on their mental and physical health is extremely concerning and something we believe that employers need to address.

“The changes in the way that millions of people are working has the potential for employers to rethink how they are supporting their employee’s mental and physical health. Some form of home working is likely to continue for millions of people and we urge employers to take the necessary steps to ensure their staff can work from home as safely and healthily as possible.”