Half working from home during lockdown are unhappy with work-life balance, survey finds

Experts warn of ‘significant physical and mental wellbeing challenges’ for staff working remotely, and urge employers to recognise their continued responsibility here

Half of employees working from home during the lockdown are unhappy with their work-life balance, a survey has found.

A poll of 500 workers, conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) over the last two weeks, found 50 per cent of respondents were not happy with their current work-life balance, with 48 per cent putting in longer and more irregular hours than they would under normal circumstances.

A third (33 per cent) reported feeling isolated, while increased concerns over matters such as job security and the health of family members were causing sleep loss for 64 per cent of respondents – a problem compounded by irregular hours, according to the IES.

The figures were the interim findings of an ongoing study into the wellbeing of home workers. Stephen Bevan, head of HR research development at the IES and survey lead, said the figures “painted a picture of a new home working workforce that faces significant physical and mental wellbeing challenges”.

“Employers need to recognise they are still responsible for the wellbeing of their staff, even when working from home, and there are a number of steps they can take to improve employee wellbeing,” he said.

The survey also found a decline in other measures of wellbeing since the government introduced restrictions on movement. One fifth (20 per cent) of respondents reported increased alcohol consumption, 33 per cent were eating less healthily, and 60 per cent admitted exercising less since the lockdown started.

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There was also an increase in physical complaints. More than half of respondents reported new aches and pains associated with bad posture, including in their necks (58 per cent), shoulders (56 per cent) and backs (55 per cent).

Stuart Nottingham, director of Sun Rehabilitation, said it was no surprise that the sudden surge in people working from home was accompanied by an increase in aches and pains. “Health and Safety Executive guidelines state a laptop is a temporary work device because of posture,” said Nottingham, highlighting that most people working from home will be doing so on a laptop without a proper screen or monitor.

To make matters worse, most dining tables were slightly taller than a standard office desk, adding to bad posture, he said.

Workers need to lift their laptops on to a riser or stack of books to position it at a comfortable height, and use a separate keyboard and mouse, said Nottingham. As a minimum employers should supply a separate keyboard and mouse to each worker who doesn't already have this equipment at home, he said. “We don’t need to be going into desks and everything else, just do the basics well,” Nottingham advised, adding that sitting on a pillow can help posture at a dining table if they need to sit higher.

Nottingham added that employers needed to ensure workers had a routine, which would help with work-life balance, stress and sleep. Comparing the situation in the UK to that in France – which last year passed legislation giving employers the right to disconnect from work – Nottingham said employees should be encouraged to put away their work devices and log off when they have worked their contracted hours each day.

“When people are at work, you're at work. And when you’re not at work you walk away from your desk, you close your laptop and don’t open it again until the next day,” Nottingham said. “You get a routine and you stay in that routine.”