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Tips for healthy working from home

May 13, 2024
Health promotion in the home office

Since the coronavirus pandemic, the number of employees working partly from home has risen sharply. In 2022, around 60 % of office workers worked at least partly from home and around 15 % did a third of their work from home. In addition to the structural challenges in the Occupational safety many companies are also confronted with a shrinking influence on the health and well-being of their employees. This article serves as a guide to promoting health in the home office and provides valuable tips.

Not every home office is the same

Working from home is generally understood to mean working from home within your own four walls. In legal terms, however, this can be divided into two groups.

In so-called teleworking, it is contractually stipulated that an employee performs work from private premises, but in a purely decentralised manner, without a workplace being provided in the company. There are also professions in which work is performed both at the company and at an employee's private premises. This is known as alternating teleworking. In the case of teleworking, the work equipment must be provided by the employer and work in private premises is regulated by the Workplace Ordinance.

In the case of mobile work, work in private premises is not contractually provided for, so there is no workplace outside the company. This means that the Workplace Ordinance does not apply to mobile working. This results in an additional need for action for occupational health management.

The Correct design of the healthy workplace in the home office

A key component of workplace health promotion (WHP) is the setting approach (lifeworld approach). On the one hand, this approach aims to strengthen the individual skills and resources of employees in the setting, e.g. in the company, at the behavioural level. The individuals in this setting should be actively involved in shaping it. In addition, structures should be created at the relationship level within the framework of health promotion that enable a health-promoting working environment. The setting approach also applies to the working environment at home and should also be applied there in order to ensure health promotion and productivity in the home office.

Which health problems occur most frequently when working from home?

In a broader sense, health-related stress can be divided into psychological, physical and psychosomatic stress. The latter manifest themselves in symptoms that are characterised by both physical and psychological complaints.

Psychosomatic complaints

Exhausted employee working from home

The most frequently mentioned psychosomatic complaint is work-related exhaustion. A large proportion of employees complain of partial to permanent symptoms of exhaustion. In 2020, around 15 % of employees stated that they were constantly exhausted. Concentration problems in connection with psychosomatic complaints are also frequently mentioned. The number of people affected rose by around 10% to almost 62% between 2020 and 2022.

Emotional complaints

Emotional and psychological stress has increased throughout society since the coronavirus pandemic. In the context of the workplace, more than two thirds of respondents say they suffer from anger/annoyance at least sometimes, and the same number say they rarely to constantly feel burnt out. Just over one in ten people state that they feel burnt out all the time.

Working from home can lead to a lot of additional stress if employees are unable to get their minds off work. Especially when working from home, it is often difficult to switch off because private and professional boundaries become intertwined. This is known as cognitive irritation, which describes how problems from the working day are processed in the mind after work. Although fewer people were affected by this in 2022 than in the previous two years, 16 % of employees state that they are unable to switch off after work, and only a quarter do not feel affected by cognitive irritation at all.

Physical complaints

At 21.5 %, i.e. around one fifth, musculoskeletal disorders have been the undisputed main cause of sick leave in companies for years. In the home office, back and joint complaints are the most frequently cited physical health problems. 62.8 % of home workers state that they rarely to constantly suffer from these complaints. 14.3 % stated that they suffer from them constantly. In 2022, only 21.% of employees working from home were free of physical complaints, which represents a slight decrease compared to the previous years 2020 and 2021.

How do you start with health promotion in the home environment?

Mental stress in the home office is often caused by a lack of soft skills.

As is so often the case in life, opportunities are associated with risks and advantages with disadvantages and must be weighed up against each other. This also applies to work and health promotion in the home office. On the one hand, employees have gained a high degree of flexibility and autonomy. Many employees find it easier to "juggle everything". For example, errands such as doctor's appointments, domestic obligations such as childcare and private interests such as sport can be better integrated into the daily routine. For families in particular, this can be a relief and increase well-being. On the other hand, it increases the demands on discipline, personal responsibility, self-regulation and time management. This can quickly become overwhelming, especially for people who are dependent on fixed structures and employees under the age of 30. Acquiring these soft skills is necessary to avoid being distracted at home, but above all to avoid leaving work unfinished when working hours are completed. This applies both to active work at the desk and to intellectual engagement with work-related topics.

Tips for strengthening mental health skills when working from home

  • Offer seminars and workshops that help employees to acquire the soft skills mentioned above
  • Create information material with tips against the dissolution of boundaries between leisure and work, which you send out regularly
  • Make sure that emails are not sent outside working hours and that work is not done at weekends.
  • Explain the effects of sport and exercise on stress reduction.
  • Help employees to develop after-work routines that help them switch off
  • Inform you about the "Digital Wellbeing" function on the smartphone. This can be used, for example, to deactivate push notifications from work-related apps. This helps you switch off.

Social isolation influences mental health

sad employee working from home who has mental health problems.

Working from home often removes a large part of the social environment. The close interaction with colleagues often creates a "sense of togetherness", which helps to cope with the workload. In addition, the many encounters in the office offer the opportunity to talk about stressful topics. Studies show that the feeling of social isolation increases after about three days of working from home if the necessary contact with colleagues is missing.

Tips for reducing social isolation when working from home

  • Encourage team spirit through regular team meetings. Make sure the team size is moderate and plan time for small talk.
  • Introduce rituals such as having lunch together on certain days of the week

Physical complaints due to lack of exercise/ergonomics

Employee with back and neck pain working from home

As working at home with mobile working is not covered by the Workplace Ordinance, only a few employers provide ergonomic office equipment due to the high costs involved. Employees therefore set up the second workstation themselves, whereby the ergonomic requirements are often not met. In addition to the increased strain on the spine, an unergonomic workstation promotes balance problems, tension and headaches due to one-sided strain. Additional physical strain is caused in the home office by a lack of movement due to shorter and less frequent journeys.

Tips for ergonomics and promoting movement in the home office

  • Even intensive recreational sport cannot compensate for incorrect strain and lack of exercise that occur during work. You should therefore focus on regular exercise in everyday life instead of selective compensatory sports and fitness programmes outside of work.
  • Explain the consequences of unhealthy working habits and convey the importance of dynamic sitting, an upright posture and sufficient exercise for health and well-being.
  • Help to develop healthy exercise routines and an ergonomic sitting position through low-threshold offers, for example by providing a list of simple stretching and loosening exercises and regularly drawing attention to them.
  • Rely on digital offers that can be used anywhere and at any time.
  • Encourage healthy eating, regular breaks, ventilation and structured periods of exercise.

Source(s) and further links on healthy working from home 

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