Remote workers more likely to engage in self-endangering behaviours

According to German researchers, workers working remotely because of COVID-19 or other reasons are more likely to engage in self-endangering behaviours such as working while unwell. In a study of over 25,000 workers, researchers from the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found those working from home either daily or several times a week had an 11 per cent increased likelihood of 'presenteeism' than workers who never worked from home. They also found that workers working from home daily spent nearly 15 per cent of the days on which they were sick working compared to three per cent among workers who worked from home infrequently. 

Remote work has been vital for containing the COVID-19 pandemic and has also provided workers with benefits like reduced commuting time, and increased flexibility, autonomy and work-life balance, the researchers say. This has certainly been the case in Australia where many workers have now been working remotely for several months. But employers and managers need to be aware of the potential health risks, and design remote work in a way that minimises the triggers for self-endangering or "self-exploitative" behaviours, they say.

According to the researchers, workers have fewer barriers to working when they're sick while working from home, and it is harder for them to justify sickness absences to supervisors or colleagues. 

The German researchers say their findings are consistent with growing evidence pointing to an increase in self-endangering behaviour associated with flexible work and new managerial practices that shift control and responsibility from supervisors to workers. For example, other research has found that remote workers tend to work longer, work in their leisure time, and work more intensively than workers working at the workplace.  
Read more: Corinna Steidelmüller, et al, Home-Based Telework and Presenteeism Across Europe. [Abstract - but full article can be downloaded from this page]. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first August 2020, doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001992. Source: OHSAlert

Health care workers face increased stress during pandemic

A new Swiss study has stressed the importance of managing the mental health needs of healthcare workers before, during and after outbreaks of pandemic disease.

These pose unique challenges for these workers in that there is often no treatment, they are suddenly required to carry out unfamiliar tasks in high-intensity environments and they fear for the safety of their family members.

The researchers analysed existing research from recent outbreaks like SARS and MERS and found that working with infected patients amplified workers' risk of short and long-term mental health problems.

Forty per cent of exposed healthcare workers suffered from psychological distress, while 21 per cent reported post-traumatic stress disorder. Other effects included burnout, insomnia, depression and anxiety, and alcohol and drug misuse, resulting in sickness absences and poor patient care.

The researchers found that job stress, lack of control over one’s job, being involuntarily assigned infected patients, negatively influenced mental health outcomes – however trust in equipment, infection control procedures and precautionary measures decreased workers' concerns and alleviated emotional exhaustion.

The researchers recommended organisations put in place a infections disease prevention program that provides for training, planning and allocation of staff, provisioning of protective equipment and establishing a mental health team for workers.

The findings highlighted the importance of implementing mental health plans for before, during, and in the aftermath of outbreaks. Given the resurgence of coronavirus infections in Victoria, and the increased risks to health care professionals, this is a particularly timely study. The research paper is Open Access.
Read more: Suzannah Stuijfzand, et al, Psychological impact of an epidemic/pandemic on the mental health of healthcare professionals: a rapid review. BMC Public Health, published online August 2020, doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09322-z. Source: OHSAlert


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