Stats tell us that there are more people now working from home than at any time in history 1. They also show that stress and mental health-related illness is the main cause of long-term sickness 2.
We know that employers are starting to address the challenge of stress-related illness, but are they doing this with workers from home as well as those in the office? Many office-based workers may imagine that their home-based colleagues have it easy, but do homeworkers suffer from as much stress as office-based workers? And if so, what are the main causes?
Are home-bound workers more stressed than their office counterparts?
The sociologist’s theories are backed up with statistics. Sarah Damaske and her fellow Penn State University researchers have found that going to work can reduce people’s stress levels, especially women’s. She says that home-bound women never actually leave their office.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s earlier research corroborates these findings in a survey of 3,000 homeworkers.
The New York centre finds that such employees find it challenging to blot out families in their background and frequently causes the escalation of domestic arguments. It concludes that homeworkers often go to bed at night more exhausted than had they made the long commute into the office.
Why are homeworkers more stressed?
Time management: In an office you can concentrate solely on the job in hand. At home, employees can find themselves unavoidably caught up juggling their domestic and work chores, childcare activities and unforeseen events. (One freelance journalist had his kitchen ceiling cave in during his first few weeks on the job). Such juggling can push their final finishing time even further and further back.
The wrong kind of noise: In an office staff can bounce ideas off people and the general hubbub is usually a positive, creative one. Contrast that with homeworking, especially if employees don’t have a separate office detached from the rest of the home, such as in a shed or garage. Shared living room offices can be especially challenging during the summer holidays when noisy children can cause distraction havoc. These problems are multiplied if you have newborn babies or toddlers demanding 24/7 attention when you have deadlines to meet. Earphones come highly recommended.
A lack of clarity: No matter how digital devices have advanced the cause of homeworkers, nothing replaces face-to-face contact. Without human intonation, emails lose clarity and instructiveness. Such lack of day-to-day contact – with it being more difficult to keep them in the loop – can lead to feelings of alienation and a lack of clarity about their role among some homeworkers.
Feng shui: It’s lovely to come home and shut your front door on the rest of the outside world and your office. Homeworkers aren’t afforded that luxury. The work follows them around. Their laptop is always staring at them across the room, saying: “Boot me up and finish some more work.” This is even more apparent when your office is in a relaxing room, such as your lounge, or even worse, the bedroom. This makes it harder for staff to switch off, as demonstrated in the New York’s institute’s findings.
1 4.2 million – or 13.9% of the workforce – now work from home in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics.
2 45% of UK firms claimed this in a report by the Group Risk Development