WEDNESDAY, April 27, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — First up, we got tips for staying fit and healthy while working in the office. Then, when the pandemic started, we got advice on staying fit and healthy while working from home.
As the era of hybrid working – doing the same job in both places – sets in, what now?
There are a lot of health trade-offs, said Shawn Roll, an occupational therapist and associate professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who studies occupational health. “You can get a lot of benefits from both, but also a lot of potential problems and concerns. There has to be a balance.”
A Gallup poll last fall showed that 45% of full-time employees work from home all or part of the time, including 67% of white-collar workers. Of those working remotely, 54% hoped to maintain their hybrid arrangement, splitting their time between home and the office.
One of them is Dr. Jeffrey Harris, a professor in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“I usually go there three days a week and work from home two days a week,” he said. “I’m certainly just as productive and I don’t miss the commute. But I do miss the human interaction.”
At least for some people, that’s one of the trade-offs. A February report from the World Health Organization warned that the isolation of working from home can lead to burnout and depression, and urged employers to promote healthy work environments as well as a support for home workers.
Working alone rather than in an office can affect health in both ways. Not having a supervisor or rules in the workplace, Harris said, could leave someone free to drink alcohol or smoke more than before. That refrigerator a few steps away could be an easily accessible source of healthy food – or junk. But a home environment could provide more flexibility for taking breaks, getting up and moving around, a key factor in countering the ill effects of sedentary office work.
Even the journey can go both ways. While people can take advantage of the time saved by not going to the office, Roll said his survey data shows some would prefer to make the trip.
“For a lot of people, it’s a nice clean break and a transition between home and work, creating a boundary between them,” he said. “At home there is the question of when the working day ends and does the employer think you are available 24/7.”
Wherever work is done, the two experts insisted on healthy habits to keep in mind:
- Interacting with colleagues, whether in person or virtually, helps defuse anxiety and stress.
- Creating a healthy workspace, with quality chairs, good lighting and an ergonomic setting, is important whether at the office or at the kitchen table. “People lying on the couch all day with a laptop tend to have more problems,” Roll said. “It can strain your eyes and put you in a terrible position.”
- Sitting anywhere too long is a bad idea. “Stand up, stretch, and take exercise breaks,” Harris said. “And watch out for things that can pose health risks, like drinking and smoking and proximity to the refrigerator.”
If hybrid working is here to stay, Roll hopes employers will help make the work-from-home space as efficient as possible.
“They need to be aware that each employee has a different family situation with different resources,” he said. “It’s not just about work and what’s best for the company, it’s also about supporting employee health and well-being.”
Hybrid workers, on the other hand, have to watch out for themselves.
“Find out who you are, how you feel both physically and mentally, and how and where you work best,” Roll said. “Try to organize your professional life so that it is the most productive and the healthiest.”
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected]
By Michael Precker, American Heart Association News