How is home working impacting mental health?

Terms such as home working and work/life balance have become part of our vocabulary. But a new survey has identified the hidden impacts of working from home on our mental health.

According to research by Office Space in Town (OSiT), most workers now favour a full return to the office although barriers remain in terms of health, wellbeing and employees feeling safe and supported at work. This is one of the challenges facing facilities management professionals as the return to the ‘new normal’ continues.

Bad for your health?

It turns out that home working could be bad for your health, with research by the British Council for Offices revealing that over half of respondents reported back, neck and shoulder pain. In the OSiT survey, 29% of respondents felt that the lack of suitable equipment was a disadvantage to home working while 64% felt their company had not offered practical health and safety advice.

But the OSiT survey also revealed the impact of remote working on the wellbeing and mental health of respondents. Almost 30% felt that one of the biggest drawbacks were feelings of loneliness and isolation, with 25% experiencing feelings of anxiety. 37% cited the inability to unplug from the work environment as a major drawback.

In fact, only 5% of respondents favoured full-time remote working with the remaining 95% ready to return to the office once a vaccine is found.

Workers Wishlist

So what do employers and FM professionals need to do to ensure that the transition back to the office can be undertaken confidently and safely?

Workers are most concerned about the potential for contamination in the office environment, with over 60% agreeing that better cleaning and hygiene measures would make them feel more comfortable. Other measures that employees expect to see are social distancing markers and the availability of masks and gloves. Sneeze screens and hand sanitizers should be available at all desks according to half of the survey respondents.

The bigger picture

The survey did manage to identify benefits to home working including avoiding the daily commute (72%) and spending more time with family (54%). However, 52% felt that working from home didn’t have a significant effect on their work-life balance and that missing out on collaboration with colleagues and dealing with distractions were major drawbacks to remote working.

It seems that the dream of working from home is unsustainable for the majority of workers, with 34% identifying a lack of dedicated workspace as one of the key drawbacks.

A professionalised environment

It seems that we actually thrive in the professional office, where opportunities for formal and informal collaboration foster productivity, community and a sense of wellbeing. The survey also uncovered the uncomfortable hidden costs of remote working where feelings of isolation, lack of dedicated workspace and uncomfortable blurring of the boundaries between work and life have created impacts that won’t disappear overnight.

The potential cost to mental health and wellbeing makes the return to the office more critical than ever. FM professionals have a key role and responsibility in ensuring that workers feel safe and comfortable when they finally return to the office. Actioning the ‘workers wishlist’ would be a good place to start while flexible working will encourage workers to return to the normality of the office.