How working from home could be killing you

Working from home is generally considered a great way to balance your work and home life, potentially increasing productivity and reducing stress levels – get it wrong though, and it can have the opposite effect and turn you into a stressed-out insomniac.

The dangers of working from home

Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work is a new study that has analysed the working habits of people from the UK, Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Argentina, Brazil, India, Japan and the US.

Conducted by the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO), the results show that working remotely can cause increased levels of stress and insomnia.

The study made distinctions between three groups of workers:

  • Those who work from home regularly
  • Those “highly mobile” employees who work in various locations away from the office
  • Those who split their time between the office and home.

It found all three groups were more prone to negative health and well being than those employees who always, or at least regularly, work in an office, and it’s an inability to split work and home life, effectively being ‘always on’, that’s causing the damage.

The findings reveal almost half (42%) of highly-mobile and regular home workers dealt with insomnia, compared with just over a quarter (29%) of regular office workers. It also found almost half (41%) of highly-mobile workers complained of stress, compared to just a quarter (25%) of office workers.

Jon Messenger, who co-authored the report, said: “This report shows that the use of modern communication technologies facilitates a better overall work-life balance but, at the same time, also blurs the boundaries between work and personal life, depending on the place of work and the characteristics of different occupations.”

This theory is backed up by a similar study currently being carried out by BioBeats and backed by AXA PPP Healthcare, which has found more than half of City workers suffer high stress levels of stress as they try to balance their office and home lives, while dealing with the habit of always being available to do work.

This study is also the first to identify a link between cardiovascular disease and the ‘always on‘ working culture.

How to cut the risk

There’s no doubt that working from home can have a positive impact on health and well being, but in order to reap the rewards you need to make sure you make clear and distinct divisions between work and home life, and this means switching off completely – both mentally and physically – once the working day is done.

Check out our work from home tips to make sure you’re doing it right.

And cut out any supplementary home working – just penciling in half an hour here and there to tie up any of the day’s loose ends, or prepare for the next day, can quickly snowball into a couple of hours each evening and eventually have devastating consequences on your mental and physical health.

Oscar Vargas from Eurofound, the EU living and working conditions body that was also behind the ILO report, said: “It is particularly important to address the issue of supplemental work performed through modern communications technology, for example additional working from home, which could be viewed as unpaid overtime, and also to ensure that minimum rest periods are respected, in order to avoid negative effects on workers’ health and well being.”

And if you find you’re suffering from insomnia, take the following steps to help get better sleep:

How to stop insomnia

  • Wake up at the same time each day, even at weekends
  • Eliminate alcohol and stimulants like nicotine and caffeine
  • Cut down on naps that can interrupt natural sleeping patterns
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t work or watch TV in bed
  • Don’t eat or drink right before going to bed
  • Make your sleeping environment comfortable by controlling temperature, lighting and noise levels
  • Don’t lie there worrying. Try to set time aside to review your day before you go to bed.
  • Try meditation or relaxation techniques to wind down before bed
  • Consider cognitive therapy.

Do you find working from home increases your stress levels? How do you cope with any added pressure? Share your knowledge and experiences with our community.

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