The coronavirus pandemic has profoundly changed workplaces and the nature of work itself, with millions of Australians making the transition to working from home (WFH) in 2020.
As workers prepare their ‘out of office’ messages for the December holiday break, La Trobe University researchers are urging employers to plan and implement formalised WFH policies to support workers’ mental and physical health in 2021.
Their recommendations include:
- Supporting workers to set boundaries between work and home
- Being clear about employees’ roles, including workload and performance indicators
- Providing appropriate technical support, equipment and software
- Encouraging networking
- Training and supporting managers to supervise remote teams
The recommendations are based on a rapid review of 23 studies on the impacts of WFH on individual workers, published in BMC Public Health.
Led by Head of the Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors at La Trobe University, Associate Professor Jodi Oakman, the review analyses local and international studies of WFH published between January 2007 to May 2020.
“We identified that the health impacts of working from home were different for men and women. Women, for example, were less likely to report any positive health changes compared to men,” Professor Oakman said.
“Also, fathers who were working from home reported increased stress, and mothers working from home experienced decreased happiness. Women were more likely to report higher levels of work exhaustion than their colleagues who continued to work in the office.
Working from home was associated with lower social support, less feedback, greater role ambiguity, and increased exhaustion. Conversely, people working from home on a part-time basis reported experiencing less stress.
“The relationship between working from home and health is complex and there is still much work to be done to gain an accurate picture of what working from home means for Australians. But with working from home now more than just a trend, it’s vital we get future policies right.”