Volume 16, Number 5
It is estimated that somewhere between 30%-50% of the workforce is working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, although it is believed that only about a third of employed persons have jobs that can actually be done from home. What is known about the impact of working from home on health and well-being?
One challenge for persons working from home is the relative absence of boundaries between work and family. Teleworkers often report higher work-to-family conflict (i.e., work matters interfering with family) than non-teleworkers. They similarly report more family-to-work conflict (i.e., family matters interfering with work), especially if there are children at home and when work demands are high. And because of blurred work-family boundaries, overworking can be an issue for some individuals working from home, especially for those experiencing “workplace telepressure” (i.e., the preoccupation with quickly responding to work-related messages).
Even when “tele-connections” are maintained by those working from home, social isolation can pose health risks, especially if the isolation is accompanied by loneliness. Supportive contacts with others while maintaining physical distance can certainly be helpful, but do not fully fill the gap created by the loss of opportunities for direct social interactions, whether with work colleagues or personal friends or extended family members.
Not surprisingly, less perceived stress has been found among employees who voluntarily worked from home compared to those who were mandated to work from home. The presence (or absence) of choice and control impacts perceived stress across a range of situations, including work circumstances. Where possible, choosing to focus more on what one does control rather than what is out of one’s control is an important element of resilience. Such choice can include the perspective one takes on the impact of the pandemic.
For those working from home, there may not be much choice in this current work arrangement, and the closure of schools means that the presence of children increases the blurring of work-family boundaries. Working from home, whether voluntary or not, can have challenges that potentially impact health and wellbeing. However, in most cases these stressors pale in comparison to those who don’t have the work from home option. There are many whose health is jeopardized by the substantial impact of loss of income. And fortunately for all of us, there are many brave and hardworking individuals who can’t work from home and who face direct risks to their health. These include the broad spectrum of healthcare personnel, as well as numerous other workers whose essential nature has become very evident in this crisis. Those of us who are teleworking owe much gratitude to all of them.
Paul J. Hershberger, Ph.D.
… is a clinical health psychologist. He is Professor, Director of Research, and Director of the Division of Behavioral Health, Department of Family Medicine, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
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