Sleep and exercise down, back pain and TV up in UK lockdown

The COVID-19 crisis has obliged many thousands of us to become homeworkers, raising questions about the impact of this change on our physical & emotional wellbeing, morale and motivation.

In March 2020, the Institute for Employment Studies launched an online survey of homeworkers to measure their wellbeing. The interim findings from the IES Working at Home Wellbeing Survey, conducted during the first two weeks of the ‘lockdown’, have been analysed to produce a preliminary picture of how homeworking is affecting both the physical and mental wellbeing of a new army of UK homeworkers.

Make shift offices in the spare bedroom have perhaps contributed to a significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints. More than half of the survey respondents reported new aches and pains, especially in the neck, shoulder and back, compared to their normal physical condition.

Diet and exercise are taking a hit too, with one fifth of respondents admitting to an increase in alcohol consumption, while a third are eating a less healthy diet, and over half acknowledging that they are exercising less.

Poor sleep and increased risk of exhaustion are also cause for concern. The majority of respondents reported a loss of sleep due to worry; and corresponding increased symptoms of fatigue, possibly as a consequence of nearly half reporting working patterns that include long and irregular hours.

The mental health of survey respondents depicts a workforce with a lot on its mind. Half of all respondents reported not being happy with their current work-life balance; a third frequently feel isolated, over a fifth  are worried about job security, while just under half harbour health concerns for family members.

“Certainly over the first two weeks of lockdown, we seem not to have reacted as well as you might have hoped,” said Stephen Bevan, the IES’s head of HR research development.

Organisations have had to adapt quickly to large-scale homeworking, he said, and while health and safety issues had not been a priority until now, “I do think there are going to be questions over whether people can sustain prolonged laptop working”.

Instead of exercising, it turns out we are watching more TV. The latest official TV viewing figures collated by the ratings body Barb suggest that TV viewing hours have increased to an average of three hours and 46 minutes a day – higher than the levels normally seen at Christmas. The daily Downing Street press conferences became required viewing for millions, and more than 22 million people watched the Queen’s address to the nation.

The interim findings of the survey have been drawn from the initial 500 respondents to the survey. The IES Working at Home Wellbeing Survey remains open for the duration of April.


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