The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has found a distinct link between home working during the pandemic and increased mental distress.
NatCen, which is Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, analysed data from interviews carried out with 8,675 people before the pandemic and in May, July and November 2020 for the Understanding Society COVID-19 survey.
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 (Grant ES/V009877/1), NatCen’s research concludes that the biggest increases in mental distress and loneliness (compared with pre-pandemic levels( were felt by the most isolated group – those working from home and living alone.
Surprisingly, people working from home and living with others also experienced a significant increase in loneliness not felt by those working outside the home. The research highlights that people able to work from home during the pandemic have been protected from financial difficulties which are, themselves, a strong predictor of poor mental health.
However even when financial circumstances, loneliness and demographic characteristics were controlled for in the research, people working from home recorded bigger increases in mental distress than those who were working outside the home.
Isabel Taylor, Research Director at the National Centre for Social Research, said: “Our research suggests working from home arrangements have negatively impacted some workers’ mental health. As the government considers current working guidance, individuals, employers and government departments should be aware of the impact working from home is likely having on people’s mental health.”
The research and analysis is based on the 8,675 people who were interviewed pre-pandemic and in May, July and November 2020. All respondents indicated whether they were currently employed or self-employed.
Mental distress was measured using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) designed to assess common psychiatric conditions. The GHQ consists of 12 items, each assessing the severity of a mental problem over the past few weeks using a 4-point scale (from 0 to 3). The analysis used the total GHQ score (ranging from 0 to 36), with higher scores indicating worse mental distress.
Data used: University of Essex, Institute for Social and Economic Research. (2020). Understanding Society: Waves 1-10, 2009-2019 and Harmonised BHPS: Waves 1-18, 1991-2009. [data collection]. 13th Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 6614, http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-6614-14; University of Essex, Institute for Social and Economic Research. (2021). Understanding Society: COVID-19 Study, 2020-2021. [data collection]. 8th Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 8644, http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-8644-8.
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