Procurement · 20 May 2016

Caution: Offices should come with a health warning

offices health
Half of employees are happier working from home

While flexible working and emotional wellbeing are important issues in their own right, they’re also more closely interlinked than you might think.

As well as being National Work From Home Day, today marks the end of the working portion of Mental Health Awareness Week. To mark the awareness-raising event, a new survey from Westfield Health revealed that 40 per cent of UK employees think that work has a detrimental impact on their mental health – something that seems at first glance to be at odds with a whole body of psychological literature that tells us that being in work plays an important positive role in recovery from mental illness.

But when you delve into the findings further, the results seem less puzzling. In a 2011 paper published in journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Australian academics highlighted how important job quality was to this process, and found that those in the lowest quality jobs were actually more likely to be depressed than someone who was unemployed.

One important aspect of job quality as they defined it was having the control to decide how and when to complete work – something which chimes with the results of another new study published this week, this time on flexible working.

The survey – carried out by comparethemarket.com and Sheffield University as part of their Institute of Inertia partnership – found that employees think they are more productive when working from home for very similar reasons. The ability to structure their own day and manage their own to-do list both made it on to the list of the top five benefits to flexible working.

The same research also found that half of employees are happier working from home – and a quarter would choose working remotely one day each week over getting a pay rise.

Of course, the evidence also shows that feeling part of the society around you is also important for those battling through mental health problems – something that working from home could pose a risk to. But the truth is that even when you’re in a big shared space with tens of other people, working spaces can still be lonely.

If you’re reading this from your office right now, the chances are that someone around is hooked up to headphones, while another half-listens to a conference call and someone else wolf down a sandwich. They might be occupying the same space, but there’s nothing remotely sociable about it.

In contrast, there are a plethora of places outside the office where people struggling with mental health issues – and those who just need a change of scene – could be more productive and happier. For some employees, it might mean working from a friend or family member’s house or a cosy and familiar coffee shop. Others will simply appreciate not having to bookend a long working day with an uncomfortable commute, or being able to take an hour out for a medical appointment without having to explain to colleagues where they’re going.

Flexible working also gives employees the option of performing tasks which don’t require a computer, such as proofreading, outside – something which has the potential to boost physical as well as mental wellbeing. Interestingly, the Westfield Health research found a significant correlation between the two, with 40 per cent of those who had suffered a psychological issue citing a physical ailment as one of the causes.

Without large human resources departments and structured mental health support programmes, small business owners often struggle to know what to do if they fear an employee is unhappy. But letting someone get out of the office for an afternoon is one of the simplest things you can do to help – so why not give it a try?

Remote working doesn’t necessarily have to be from a coffee shop – why not try working from the gym?

Image: Shutterstock

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

Procurement