Working from home might seem to be an ideal set-up for modern employees because it offers flexible working hours, less stress of commuting to work, fewer work distractions and more time with the family. However, flexible working hours can do more harm than good to employees' health, experts from the United Kingdom have warned. With easy access to work, they are working in an "always on" pace that poses heavy psychological toll.
With flexible working hours, workers find it hard to "switch off" from work. They are also isolated from social networks and career opportunities while having an "on-the-go" attitude that can be harmful to health because of increased levels of stress hormones.
Telecommuting, which means working outside the traditional office or at home, may be detrimental to health because employees tend to be online more and work longer hours than their counterparts in the office. While there are many benefits of telecommuting, its effects on health may outweigh its perks.
Telecommuting Is Not For Everyone
Though working at home may benefit single parents and those people with disabilities, it isn't a one-size-fits-all style of working. Some people who have the coping mechanism and have high organizational skills to blend work with their personal lives often do well with telecommuting.
However, for those people who have higher levels of work-family conflicts, it may cause exhaustion, stress and mental fatigue. They often struggle to establish boundaries between job and family if both are in one location.
"The flip side of flexibility is that many workers feel pressured — often by their peers — to be available anytime and anywhere," said Tracy Haugen, a director in Deloitte Consulting's human capital practice.
"Learning how to disconnect is a new skill for many people," she added.
Why Working At Home Can Make You Ill
Working at home, though filled with a lot of perks, may increase the risk of certain diseases that may take a toll to a person's physical, mental and emotional health.
"Teleworking offers a lot of benefits to both the employer and employee, but only if it is done right," said Timothy J. Kane, president of the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC).
"Some companies make the mistake of giving their employee a DSL line and that's it. But there are a lot of other considerations to make a program successful," he added.
A successful telecommuting program must make sure the employee is working in a safe environment. Just like in the office, employees may face work-related injuries and disabilities. The employer must make certain that regulations regarding working stations are implemented.
According to Professor Gail Kinman, an occupational health psychologist from the University of Bedfordshire and the British Psychological Association, one problem people who work from home experience is "grazing" through work by checking emails or receiving calls outside working hours. They remain online almost the whole day which adds up the work task stress levels.
"If you keep picking at work, worrying about it, your systems never really go down to baseline so you don't recover properly. You might sleep, but you don't sleep properly, the effectiveness of your immune system reduces," Kinman said.
If there are increased levels of work-induced stress, physical symptoms may manifest such as headache, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, and sleep problems. Aside from affecting a person physically, it also results to mood changes like anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, irritability and depression. It affects the behavior in terms of overeating or under-eating, angry outbursts, social withdrawal, and increased risk of alcohol abuse and smoking.
To reduce the negative effects of telecommuting in health and stress levels, companies are urged to provide flexible hours. For workers, they are encouraged to set a separate work station at home where there will be no distractions, having a fixed schedule and reducing stress levels by getting up every 2 hours.
Photo: Takanori Nakanowatari | Flickr