New research from Public Health Wales has identified that while the majority of people would like to continue working from home, nearly half surveyed also reported worsened wellbeing and feelings of loneliness.
The survey, carried out in November 2020 to January 2021 during the second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, asked adults in employment in Wales whether they could work from home (WFH) and the impact of WFH on their health and wellbeing.
The survey asked respondents to consider their preferences for the future. Three in five respondents wanted to spend at least some or all of their working week WFH. One in five wanted to avoid home working entirely.
Of those who could WFH during the pandemic, almost half reported worsened mental wellbeing (45 per cent) and increased feelings of loneliness (48 per cent).
Groups who were more likely to report these effects included:
Younger workers in their 30s
Those who lived alone
Those with poorer mental wellbeing
Those living with limiting pre-existing conditions
The effects of WFH on diet and exercise were more mixed. Whilst four in 10 reported a decrease in their levels of physical activity, three in 10 reported an improvement. Likewise, approximately one in three reported a poorer diet, while one in four reported an improvement.
Findings provide a reminder that the opportunity to WFH may not be accessible to all. Men, those living in more deprived areas, those in temporary employment and those with poorer mental and physical health were all less likely to report being able to WFH during this time.
Melda Lois Griffiths, Senior Public Health Research Officer, Public Health Wales, said:
“Our survey in Wales captured the views of those able to WFH at a single time point during the pandemic. Whilst our findings are in line with other national studies, it is difficult to separate out the effects of WFH from the impact of restrictions to social contacts during this time. Reflecting on the ways in which home working impacted health during the pandemic can help to inform approaches to stay well as we adjust to ways of working going forward.”
Professor Alisha Davies, Head of Research & Evaluation in Public Health Wales, said
“Despite some reporting a negative impact to health while home working during the pandemic, largely people wished to continue working remotely to some extent into the future. Other studies have shown that, amongst those who continue to WFH, loneliness has improved but levels of psychological distress remain slightly higher. Supporting employers and employees to realise the benefits from home working alongside minimising the potential harms – specifically to mental health, is important.”
Mary-Ann McKibben, Consultant in Public Health and lead for Public Health Wales’ health and work programmes, said:
“These findings reiterate what employers are telling us on a day-to-day basis. They recognise the benefits of more flexible ways of working introduced over the last two to three years, but also acknowledge there are downsides to remote working that need to be considered and handled carefully. Employer research we undertook during the height of the pandemic highlighted major concerns about employees’ mental wellbeing, alongside perceptions by managers about the impact on physical health of sedentary behaviour, unhealthy eating and alcohol use. We continue to work with employers in Wales to support them to support their workforce in all aspects of health and wellbeing.”
The Healthy Working Wales programme, delivered by Public Health Wales, encourages and guides employers to implement healthy and safe working practices, and promote good health and wellbeing, regardless of sector, industry or location of work. There are many examples of Healthy Working Wales award holders continuing to support flexible ways of working established during the pandemic while also providing support to employees to look after their mental and physical health and wellbeing. The Healthy Working Wales web pages contain guidance on a raft of issues that impact on staff health and wellbeing, as well as employer case studies, and a team of Advisers provide free support to organisations.
Homeworking and hybrid models of work continue here in Wales, and the Welsh Government have announced their long-term ambition for 30 per cent of the workforce to be working remotely on a regular basis going forward, as part of their efforts to encourage fairer and more sustainable employment.