Working from home a deadly risk

Working from home is a double-edged sword according to an Australian Catholic University study that found failure to clock off could be deadly.

Presented at the 2021 Australian Psychological Society – Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference, the study of 605 white collar, fulltime employees surprisingly found an increase in work intensification improved the mental wellbeing of individuals.

However, lead researcher Dr Sugumar Mariappanadar, from ACU’s Peter Faber Business School, warned the effects of working from home could offset the sugar hit of work intensification when work starts encroaching on family and play activities.

“When work is viewed as a challenge, people can feel superhuman. And it can improve your wellbeing, but the problems come when the intensity of work restricts the ability to attend to your health,” Dr Mariappanadar said.

“It’s killing people because there’s no way, in these global pandemic times, to disengage from work and there’s little opportunity to seek support.

“The more work being done at home, the more difficult it is to disengage.”

World Health Organisation research published last year in Environment International found 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016 were associated with longer working hours.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and poor sleep are lagging work-related indicators of psychological disorders and chronic disease, prompting Dr Mariappanadar to explore lead indicators to predict poor health outcomes associated with work.

He developed the Health Harm of Work scale, a questionnaire which addresses work/life balance, coffee and alcohol consumption, weight control, sleep, emotional health and exercise. Published in the International Journal of Manpower, the scale functions like an early warning system for negative health impacts of work intensification.

“People think working from home is a good thing. But they can burn the candle at both ends,” Dr Mariappanadar said.

“When they reach the tipping point, or ceiling effect of human energy as I call it, they use coffee and alcohol as a crutch which has long term negative impacts on health.

“Sleep becomes a problem, their health is negatively impacted and that can lead to presenteeism and it costs businesses.”

Dr Sugumar Mariappanadar is available for interview.

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