Employees who shifted to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic report health problems including low back pain and weight gain—and yet feel they are more productive than working at the office, according to a survey study in the September Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The online survey included 194 office workers who began working from home during the pandemic. For most respondents, the ergonomic working conditions were less than ideal, reports the study by Mehmet Akif Guler, MD, of Gaziosmanpasa Training and Research Hospital, Istanbul, Turkey, and colleagues.
"Chair type, desk type, and computer type used for working from home were mostly inappropriate,” the researchers write. Most employees were unhappy with the comfort level of their chairs; many were using their own dining room table and chairs. Average daily computer was 9.5 hours when working from home, compared to 7.25 hours at the office.
Employees working from home reported increased musculoskeletal pain, particularly low back pain. Back pain was related to the use of non-ergonomic equipment and lack of lumbar support, along with stress levels, sleep and rest, and general health. Nearly half of employees said they gained weight, related to eating more junk food and doing less outdoor activity.
Despite these negative effects, participants reported higher productivity after they started working at home. Employees felt they were less stressed and more relaxed, worked more efficiently, and performed higher-quality work.
Since the start of the pandemic, vast numbers of employees have been working from home, with unknown effects on health and work productivity. The new results suggest that employees who switched to working from home "were caught off guard and had to adjust by their own means" — including using their own furniture and computer equipment. These non-ergonomic working conditions likely contributed to low back pain and other health problems.
"For employees who are expected to work from home, employers should be advised to bear the burden in terms of either providing or contributing to the purchase of ergonomically appropriate task furniture and accessories," Dr. Guler and coauthors conclude. They also suggest educational programs to address the quality-of-life issues associated with working from home.
About the Author
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), an international society of 4,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.
About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (www.joem.org
) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.