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Exploring the health impacts and inequalities of the new way of working: findings from a cross-sectional study.

By Melda Lois Griffiths, Benjamin J Gray, Richard G Kyle, Alisha R Davies

Posted 08 Jan 2022
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2022.01.07.22268797

AimTo explore the working Welsh adult populations ability to work from home, their preferences for the future, and the self-reported health impacts of home-working. Subject and MethodA nationally-representative household survey was undertaken across Wales (Public Health Wales COVID-19, Employment and Health in Wales study), with cross-sectional data on home-working being collected between November 2020 and January 2021 from 615 employed working-aged adults in Wales (63.7% female, 32.7% aged 50-59). Respondents were asked about their ability to work from home, their perceptions of its impact on their health and their preferences for time spent home-working in future. ResultsOver 50% were able to work from home, and showed a preference towards home-working to some capacity, with over a third wishing to work from home at least half the time. However, those living in the most deprived areas, in atypical employment, with high wage precarity or with limiting pre-existing conditions were less likely to report being able to work from home. Of those that could work from home, over 40% reported that it worsened their mental well-being and loneliness, and for people in poorer health, home-working negatively impacted their diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol use. People aged 30 to 39 and those who lived alone were more likely to report wanting to spend some time working in an office/base instead of at home. ConclusionThe inequity in the ability to work from home reflects underlying inequalities in Wales, with those facing the greatest insecurity (e.g. those living in most deprived areas, those with more precarious work or financial circumstances) being less able to participate in home-working. Working from home offers greater flexibility, reduces the financial and time costs associated with commuting, and protects individuals from exposure to communicable diseases. However, working from home presents an enormous challenge to preserving the mental-wellbeing of the workforce, particularly for younger individuals and those with low mental well-being. Younger respondents and those in poorer health who could work from home were also more likely to engage in health-harming behaviours, and reduce their engagement in health-protective behaviours such as eating well and moving more. Reflecting on the future, providing pathways for accessing work from home arrangements, integrating hybrid models and preparing targeted health support for at risk groups may be best suited to the working populations preferences and needs.

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