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Research reveals toll of working from home during pandemic on UK’s mental health

05 July 2021

New research by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) links working from home during the pandemic to increased levels of loneliness and mental distress.

NatCen 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.

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.

Perhaps 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. More of us than ever now work from home and use technology to replace many aspects of work previously done in person, but this cannot fully replicate the working environment for everyone. 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.”

ENDS

For all media enquiries please contact:

Oliver Paynel, Media and Communications Officer, National Centre for Social Research

oliver.paynel@natcen.ac.uk

Direct: 0207 549 9550

Mobile: 07734 960 071

or Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications, National Centre for Social Research

katie.crabb@natcen.ac.uk 

Direct: 0207 549 8504

Notes to editors

1. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (www.natcen.ac.uk).

2. Understanding Society (the UK Household Longitudinal Study) is a large, nationally representative household panel study that interviews all members of randomly selected households. All participants from waves of the main survey conducted between 2017 and 2019 were invited to take part in a COVID-19 study about respondents’ employment situation and their mental health throughout the pandemic. From April 2020, a shorter web-survey was regularly fielded to collect information on participants’ lives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (www.understandingsociety.ac.uk).

3. This research was 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).

4. This 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.