All That Glitters Is Not Gold — Global Issues


Without proper planning, organization and health and safety support the impact of teleworking on the physical and mental health and social wellbeing of workers can be significant, warns new report. Credit: Martin/ILO
  • by Baher Kamal (madrid)
  • Inter Press Service

… But, on the other hand, teleworking has also heavy negative impacts: it can lead to isolation, burnout, depression, domestic violence, musculoskeletal and other injuries, eye strain, an increase in smoking and alcohol consumption, prolonged sitting and screen time and unhealthy weight gain.

A new technical brief on healthy and safe teleworking, jointly released on 2 February 2022, by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO) adds on this regard the changes needed to accommodate the shift towards different forms of remote work arrangements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the digital transformation of work.

Among the benefits, the report says, teleworking can also lead to higher productivity and lower operational costs for many companies.

However, the report warns that without proper planning, organisation and health and safety support the impact of teleworking on the physical and mental health and social wellbeing of workers can be significant.

The WHO/ILO joint report outlines the roles that governments, employers, workers and workplace health services should play in promoting and protecting health and safety while teleworking.

“The pandemic has led to a surge of teleworking, effectively changing the nature of work practically overnight for many workers”, said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, WHO.

Pros and cons

In the nearly two years since the start of the pandemic, it’s become very clear that teleworking can easily bring health benefits and it can also have a dire impact, she said.

“Which way the pendulum swings depends entirely on whether governments, employers and workers work together and whether there are agile and inventive occupational health services to put in place policies and practices that benefit both workers and the work.”

For her part, Vera Paquete-Perdigão, Director of the ILO’s Governance and Tripartism Department, said that teleworking and particularly hybrid working are here to stay and are likely to increase after the pandemic, as both companies and individuals have experienced its feasibility and benefits.

What to do?

“As we move away from this ‘holding pattern’ to settle into a new normal, we have the opportunity to embed new supportive policies, practices and norms to ensure that millions of teleworkers have healthy, happy, productive and decent work.”

Measures that should be put in place by employers include ensuring that workers receive adequate equipment to complete the tasks of the job; providing relevant information, guidelines and training to reduce the psychosocial and mental health impact of teleworking; training managers in effective risk management, distance leadership and workplace health promotion; and establishing the “right to disconnect” and sufficient rest days.

According to the joint report, occupational health services should be enabled to provide “ergonomic, mental health and psychosocial support to teleworkers using digital telehealth technologies, the report says and offers practical recommendations for the organisation of telework to meet the needs of both workers and organisations.”

These include discussing and developing individual teleworking work plans and clarifying priorities; being clear about timelines and expected results; agreeing on a common system to signal availability for work; and ensuring that managers and colleagues respect the system, explains the WHO/ILO study.

“Enterprises with teleworkers should develop special programmes for teleworking, combining measures for the management of work and performance with information and communication technologies and adequate equipment, and occupational health services for general health, ergonomic and psychosocial support.”

Key findings

Already in September 2021, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the following key findings regarding teleworking:

  • In Australia, France and the United Kingdom, 47% of employees teleworked during lockdowns in 2020. In Japan, which did not institute a nationwide lockdown, the teleworking rate increased from 10% to 28% between December 2019 and May 2020.
  • Highly digitalised industries, including information and communication services, professional, scientific and technical services as well as financial services, achieved the highest rates of teleworking during the pandemic – over 50% of employees, on average.
  • Teleworking rates during the pandemic were higher among workers in large firms than in small ones, reflecting lower digital uptake among small firms and their specialisation in activities less amenable to remote working.
  • Workers with a higher level of qualifications were more likely to telework during the pandemic. In the United States, for instance, teleworking rates for individuals holding a Master’s degree or a PhD were fifteen times higher than for the least qualified employees.
  • In most countries for which data are available, teleworking rates during the pandemic were much higher for women than for men, although the gap was narrower in Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
  • Perceived productivity at home appears strongly associated with the desire to work at home. However, while most businesses and individuals now expect a greater use of teleworking than before the pandemic, relatively few employees are likely to telework full time in the future.

In view of all the above, teleworking is a two-faced coin and, anyway, should be accompanied by the needed measures aiming at protecting the remote working environment, which is here to stay.

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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