As workers are this week once being encouraged to work from home ‘if you can’, research has highlighted that an overload of digital meetings, long hours, a blurring of home and work, isolation and a lack of social connections have all caused health and wellbeing problems during the pandemic.
The ‘Learning from the Covid-19 pandemic’ report from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) also identified problems with physical issues caused by a lack of office equipment, notably musculoskeletal problems, mental health challenges caused by the lack of home/work boundaries, and ‘digital fatigue’.
The report, which was gleaned from a series of interviews and focus groups held with employees, managers and health and wellbeing stakeholders help between November 2020 and June 2021, also found workers struggling with increased operational demands, increased workloads, the need to be covering for colleagues absent because of furlough or self-isolation, and, too often, an ‘always-on’ work culture.
One employee commented that he felt his work resembled “running on a treadmill with someone throwing ping pong balls and [needing] to keep catching them”.
Reports of a lack of social connection with colleagues also featured regularly in the interviews and, while organisations did have employee support mechanisms on offer, there was often a lack of awareness of these and how to access them.
Duncan Spencer, head of advice and practice at IOSH, said: “This research really brings to life some of the experiences employees have had, both positive and negative during the pandemic.
Home working and health
“While many have clearly benefited from the increased flexibility and other benefits of homeworking, many other people found it to be challenging, with poor work-life balance and the inability to connect socially with colleagues among the issues highlighted.
“With some people continuing to work remotely while others have moved a hybrid system as we continue to live with the pandemic, it is clear that more needs to be done to protect the health and wellbeing of workers and I hope that organisations might be able to follow some or all of the recommendations.
“What is clear is that if we don’t act on this, there is a strong possibility we will face a health and wellbeing crisis among our workforce,” he added,
The study, conducted by occupational health psychology consultancy Affinity Health at Work, has set out eight recommendations for employers. These are:
- Demonstrate senior management commitment to employee health and wellbeing
- Focus on line manager skills and resources
- Prioritise job design in collaboration with employees
- Promote an environment of social connection and trust
- Communicate your wellbeing approach consistently and continually
- Embed wellbeing across the culture, both at an organisational and a local level
- Conduct an internal audit of your wellbeing provision to identify your existing assets and development area
- Monitor your organisational wellbeing.