Impact of WFH on health reveals failings in employers’ duty of care

The Fellowes brand is in the news again and helping to champion the need for, and the benefits of, ergonomic solutions for homeworkers, after findings from a recent research study reveal some hard-hitting findings that are putting many people at risk

The media coverage gained across national press, online and offline publications plus radio stations means now is a great time for resellers to be promoting Fellowes healthy workspace products and capitalise on the interest being generated for laptop risers, monitor arms, wrist supports, sit-stand desk converters – and other solutions designed for homeworkers.

The new research from Fellowes Brands reveals the alarming impact home working is having on the mental wellbeing and physical health of the nation. Over a third (35%) of UK workers admit feeling stressed or anxious, lonely and isolated (32%) and tired or lacking in energy (38%), while working from home during lockdown.

Inadequate home workstations are putting people’s physical health at risk as less than half (49%) have a proper set-up. Current legislation around home working is outdated and lacks clarity – it is only a legal requirement for employers to provide workstation risk assessments if employees are ‘permanent’ home workers. As home working has increased due to the pandemic, research calls for employers to do more as 10% of people admitted to working from their sofa, five per cent from their bed and 3% even worked on the floor! It is no surprise, then, that nearly half (49%) experience more physical strain working from home, with over a quarter suffering strained eyes (27%), stiff neck (27%), a sore or aching back (26%), and headaches (25%).

Top requirements for equipment include better back support from their chair (29%), a new chair (27%) and less time spent sitting down (25%). Employees are also resorting to spending their own money on home working equipment (65%), spending on average, £1,300 – suggesting employees are unhappy with the support they are receiving. 

The global pandemic has forced employers and workers to adapt to a ‘new normal’ and embrace a new way of working at home and in the office. But what are employers doing to support their workforce and safeguard their health? And how can we all take steps to create a healthy and happy working environment that supports the flexible home/office workplace of the future?

Employers are failing in their duty of care for home workers

Research reveals that almost one in five (19%) think their employer does not care about their mental health or wellbeing – putting productivity, results and making money above their welfare. 45% of employees have never completed a workstation risk assessment – potentially putting physical and mental health at risk. 58% don’t know or don’t fully understand what their rights are when it comes to having a safe and healthy home working environment and 59% believe home working should be regulated by the government.

Kizzy Augustin, health & safety partner at Russell Cooke Solicitors says: “Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. The coronavirus pandemic has meant more people are now working from home – a trend we are likely to see continue. This means an increase in flexible or hybrid working between office and home, so employers, need to take responsibility, be proactive and work collaboratively, to continually review and adapt working practices for their employees. Current regulations are somewhat outdated and do not necessarily reflect modern working practices. If there is a permanent shift to new ways of hybrid working – legislation and associated guidance should be updated to ensure it remains relevant and protects the health, safety and welfare of employees.”

Desire to work from home in the future despite lack of support from employers

Despite the common perception that home working means a better work / life balance, nearly half (47%) work longer hours when working from home, compared to in the office, with over one in four (27%) unable to separate their home life from their work. On average, one in five feel guilty taking a break and 29% are too busy to do so. More than a third (35%) feel they need to be available at all times throughout the day and over one in four (29%) say their employer rarely or never encourages them to take time away from their desk when working from home.

While working from home is placing physical strain on workers and negatively impacting their mental health, most people (89%) are keen to continue working at home in the future; enjoying the greater flexibility (60%). However, most (63%) would feel more motivated and productive if they had a better home working environment yet 42% say their employer did not support them in creating a good working from home set-up.

Ergonomist and physiotherapy expert, Emma Crumpton, says: “Many people have had to make changes to their usual working practices and have set up workstations at home as a response to the pandemic. These measures, whilst hopefully temporary, are likely to be a feature of working life for the foreseeable future. It is vital for our health and wellbeing, as well as our productivity and job satisfaction that adequate assessment, equipment provision and adjustments to work practices and workstations are made to reflect these changes and reduce associated risks.”

Jeremy Cooper, UK marketing manager, Workplace Health Division at Fellowes Brands UK says: “It is essential that employers identify both the physical and emotional needs of their staff. We need to go beyond the office and embrace a work environment that is adaptable and supportive for all ways of working. Fellowes Brands has a range of ergonomic products and services, including back supports to laptop risers, to help maintain a healthy, happy and productive workplace, whether in the office or in the home.”

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