Warning on health risks of work outside office hours

UK office workers are putting their mental and physical health at risk by working more than two hours extra each night on their commute and at home, a new survey for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) reveals.

About two-thirds (64 per cent) of the 2,010 office workers polled by the CSP said they continued working on smartphones and other devices after they left the office, and spent an average of two hours 18 minutes doing so.

These stints were on top of an average of six hours 22 minutes in front of a screen in the office during their regular working day.

The main reasons cited for doing extra work were to ‘ease the pressure of the working day’ (35 per cent) and ‘too much work to do’ (33 per cent).

While 29 per cent of people surveyed said additional work at home helped reduce their overall stress levels, 24 per cent want their boss to offer counselling services for stress. The survey revealed 53 per cent of those who work at home out of office hours said this had increased in the past two years, but of these people just 8 per cent said their boss was trying to do anything about it.

Physiotherapists are concerned that ‘over working’ is storing up both physical and mental health problems for the future – particularly since 66 per cent of those surveyed reported suffering job-related ill health such as headaches and back pain.

The CSP is concerned that poor posture when using smartphones and other mobile devices – which many people do their additional work on – can lead to back and neck pain.

Fewer than one in four people told the survey that they considered their posture when looking at screens outside of work. Long hours can also contribute to stress-related illness, said the CSP.

Dr Helena Johnson, chair of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: “The results of this survey are a huge concern to physiotherapists, who see the consequences of poor posture and bad working practices each day.

“While doing a bit of extra work at home may seem like a good short-term fix, if it becomes a regular part of your evening routine then it can lead to problems such as back and neck problems, as well as stress-related illness. This is especially the case if you’re using handheld devices and not thinking about your posture. Talk with your employer if you are feeling under pressure.”

Ben Willmott, CIPD’s head of public policy, said: “Employers should be concerned if staff are regularly taking work home with them and finding it hard to switch off and re-charge. While a level of pressure is of course an essential part of working life, evidence suggests that prolonged exposure to excessive pressure – i.e. stress – is linked to conditions such as anxiety, depression and heart disease. Managers should be asking staff regularly about their workload to ensure people’s health does not suffer.

“In addition, it is in employers’ interests to work with staff to support their wellbeing. For example, regular exercise is proven to be one of the best ways of both preventing and managing stress. There are many low-cost and no-cost ways of encouraging employees’ interest in building activity into their working day such as participation in work football/netball teams, walking groups, on-site exercise classes and subsidised gym membership.”

Comments [1]

  • Anonymous says:

    This article makes a number of very valid points and mentions employers’ responsibilities to work with staff to support the wellbeing of employees. Don’t forget that the Health for Work Adviceline (www.health4work.nhs.uk) offers free support predominantly to employers (but also to employees) on staff health issues, including:

    – finding advice and support to help an employee experiencing ill health;
    – developing a plan to effectively and sympathetically deal with employee sickness absence;
    – establishing how to deal with similar problems in the future, should they occur;
    – thinking differently about the investment that could be made in a healthy workplace.

    There’s a free phone number (0800 0 77 88 44) but advice can also be sought online (including ‘live chat’ and the ability to ‘ask a question’ online).

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