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November 29, 2021

Working from home doesn’t always work

Both physical and mental health have been affected since the pandemic hit

As some employees head back to the workplace, it has become clear that some positives have come from employees working from home. Some employees liked it a lot, and work got done — and often done well.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 14% of employees were working remotely before the pandemic. That sudden shift to working from home when the pandemic hit left little time for employees to set up home workspaces and figure out the technology and the logistics.

According to a survey conducted by Nulab, an incredible 72% of workers who switched to remote working during the pandemic had not dedicated a space in their home for an office.

Now they’re working on couches, kitchen counters, coffee tables, even in bed. Zoom fatigue set in quickly. Kids interrupted online meetings along with well-meaning but boisterous dogs. And being cooped up at home, especially during the winter didn’t help at all.

Working from home doesn’t have to cause problems but, because most employees who were forced or chose to work remotely had never done it before, there has been a significant rise in work-related injuries and health problems.

Health problems of working from home

According to OSHA, the lack of ergonomic protection accounts for nearly one-third of workers' compensation claims — and employers are exposed to these claims whether employees are working at the company workplace or at home.

Back pain
Recent study reported by the National Institutes of Healthfound that 41.2% of home workers reported low back pain.

Neck pain
The same study found that 23.5% of home workers reported neck pain.

Musculoskeletal Pain
Using a coffee table for a desk with an unsupportive chair and then sitting in the same position for long hours has contributed greatly to shoulder problems, arm, wrist and hand issues along with back and neck pain.

Eye strain
Lighting in a typical office isn’t necessarily the best, but it’s often brighter and less hard on the eyes than the dark recesses of someone’s home dining room. And staring at the blue screen all day doesn’t help either.

Lack of exercise
Working from home literally robbed many employees of the movement required to get up from their desks and attend meetings, walk from their parking space to their jobs and more.

Poorer diet
In the early stages of the pandemic, many people did not want any part of going to a grocery store and virtually all restaurants were closed except for delivery or take out. Overall, working from home ironically offered less time — or motivation — to prepare healthy meals and avoid snacking.

Mental health/burnout
A study done by technology career website discovered that 82% of remote U.S. employees experienced burnout along with feelings of isolation and loneliness, and a definite impact on their mental health.

General fatigue and stress
Zoom fatigue, parenting kids in remote school while working full time, and fears of job loss are all adding to worker stress levels – which in turn leads to increased absenteeism and higher health care costs. In fact, according to UMass Lowell research, health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress.

How to help employees have a healthier experience working from home

Most businesses aren’t helping employees create a work environment at home that protects their health. That means their business isn’t protected from future claims. A Mercer study found that only approximately 14% of U.S. companies are paying for ergonomic office furniture for at-home workers. So 86% of companies are vulnerable to injury claims.

The pandemic hasn’t ended and, frankly, no one is quite sure how much longer we’ll all have to adjust our way of living to stay safe. In the meantime, many employees will either still need to work remotely and many will make the choice to continue working from home.

So, how can you help them develop a healthier approach to remote work? Here are a few suggestions you can make:

Create and follow a set routine
Being at a workplace creates its own routine: commute, walk to a workplace, do what needs to be done, eat lunch, continue doing what needs to be done, and go home. But when an employee is working from home — especially when they’re used to it — the routine is lost and it becomes far too easy to let things slide.

Acting as though they’re actually “going to work” can help. Doing a normal morning regimen, eating breakfast and then going to a dedicated area to work. Stick to a schedule, allowing for interruptions. Eat lunch at approximately the same time every day. Then when the employee is done for the day, “go home.” Leave the workspace and re-enter home life.

Make time for individual needs
Including this in a daily routine, especially when employees “go home.” Read, actively pursue a hobby, talk with friends and family. Make it individual time, as much as possible.

Exercise regularly
Even twenty minutes a day can help. Even walking up and down stairs works. It’s not necessary to visit a gym to get enough exercise to keep going.

Prepare healthy snacks and meals in advance
This can be a problem at the workplace as well, but food is not as readily available. It’s far easier to snack at home.

Help employees set up an ergonomic home office
The Mayo Clinic recommends that proper office ergonomics — including correct chair height, adequate equipment spacing and good desk posture — can help employees stay comfortable at work.

Be as flexible as you can
As long as the work gets done right and lines of communication are open, let employees function in the ways that work best for their situations.

Provide remote employees with the right technology
If new computers, phones, software, apps and even furniture is necessary, it’s a potentially smart investment that can help ensure the health of your remote employees and protect the business from workers’ compensation injury claims.

One last item…remember that every employee will have different needs according to how they work, where they’ll be working and their family situation. Ask people what they need so you get the right approach for everyone.

MMA can help

The health insurance and workers’ comp ramifications of employees working from home cannot be overstated. That’s why employers should review their health benefits and adjust for a workforce that may be in multiple states with a wide range of access to health care, which can create problems with in-network use. We can help you think through new strategies to best deal with your current and future needs.

Your Marsh McLennan Agency safety team can also help you work out the best approaches to helping employees establish the healthiest working environments and work habits in their homes.

To learn more, get in touch with your MMA representative today.