Why working from home health and safety should be a top priority
30 November 2020
As we enter 2021 and with it, another lockdown, our experiences of juggling work, life and possibly home-schooling commitments should mean we are all well-versed in effective homeworking by now. However, research suggests the fatigue was already settling in during the tail end of 2020. What’s more, many of the short-term solutions and policies that companies initially adopted to deal with Working from Home Health and Safety (H&S) have not been adapted to maintain this style of working in the longer term.
Amongst the weariness, it is easy to overlook the compelling benefits that homeworking can produce: no commute, fewer distractions and an improved work/life balance. It stands to companies to realise these benefits by strategically avoiding the potential pitfalls through understanding and applying preventative measures.
There are key working from home H&S issues that must be considered and addressed in order to maximise productivity, satisfaction and overall wellbeing of employees.
Homeworking employees can be at higher risk of burnout
As homeworking figures rise, so too does the number of people reporting symptoms of burnout. Google data suggests searches for ‘burnout’ symptoms have increased by 24% in 2020 alone. Three key signs of burnout are exhaustion, ineffectiveness and cynicism towards your job. However, burnout does not simply mean being exhausted from your job; it is known to cause a range of physical and mental conditions including obesity, heart disease, anxiety, depression and cognitive decline.
New studies on remote working demonstrate the extent of the issue: a 2020 study of 1500 respondents found 75% of people have experienced burnout at work – a staggering statistic that impacts business productivity and the overall health of the workforce. A 2019 survey found that over half of those surveyed reported that they were working longer hours than those in the office. In 2020 an astonishing 79% of British adults in employment experienced work-related stress, some 20% higher than in 2018.
What to do about it?
- Encourage employees to form boundaries around their working day – office hours should remain fixed as if they were actually in the office.
- Promote regular exercise – even a 10-minute walk can improve brain function and boost mood.
- Publicise initiatives aimed at encouraging employees to quit unhealthy habits.
- Communication is key - set up routine catch-ups between teams to check in on one another.
Employees report poorer physical health whilst working from home
Compounding these effects of burnout are the unhealthy habits that many have formed during the pandemic. The majority of respondents in one Institute of Employment (IES) study reported that while working from home they were exercising less, with many also admitting to drinking more alcohol and eating less healthily.
Moreover, the rush to ensure entire workforces could work from home resulted in many receiving less than ideal preparation for an ergonomic setup. Small habits can quickly become ingrained, particularly recurring routines such as slouching, relying on a laptop screen and extending your wrists. If these habits are not corrected quickly, they will often lead to longer-term issues. In fact, the IES found that more than half of respondents reported musculoskeletal complaints within the first two weeks of working remotely during lockdown.
What to do about it?
Employers should seek to minimise risk by educating employees and equipping them with the tools to manage their homeworking space. This does not always have to be costly; simply educating on a correct laptop set up, good posture, and the importance of taking regular breaks can be an effective approach to improve employee wfh health and safety.
For additional advice for effective management of ergonomics and display screen equipment (DSE), Ideagen offers interactive and engaging training courses available on Q-Pulse WorkRite.
Lone working can heighten feelings of isolation and disconnection
If lone working is not managed correctly there is a risk that employees may start to feel disconnected from their company, which in turn may affect their mental health and overall productivity. Losing a sense of community and connection has the potential to change a person’s perception of the world. If lone workers face a setback - or even just have a bad day - their reaction to it may be different if they do not have the necessary support network in place.
What to do about it?
- Get creative with collaboration: create a supportive online environment that makes it easy to check in on colleagues and keep lines of communication open. Companies are increasingly turning to chat apps and virtual hangouts for the more informal catch-ups.
- Signpost: ensure that employees are aware of the support that is available and how they can access it.
- Put the correct policies in place to ensure long working policies draw on best practice and are easily accessible for all staff.
Effective working from home health and safety training requires a flexible approach. E-learning can play a key role in reframing attitudes and empowering employees to take care of their health and wellbeing while working from home. Find out more about how we can help support your organisation with remote working.