Study: Telecommuting is healthy for you

BT telecommuters said that they are enjoying an improved quality of life, reduced stress, and are feeling more productive, according to an EU study.

The results are in: ditch the office and work at home if you want to stay healthy. The evidence is contained in two surveys just published that report on the stresses of office life and the benefits of telecommuting.

More than 90 percent of BT's telecommuters who responded to a European Union-backed survey said they experienced less stress and that their productivity increased--plus, they had more leisure time. Respondents also included among the benefits the ability to multitask, the lack of commuting and the ability to choose when to work.

The report, Telecommuting at BT--The Environmental and Social Impacts of its Workabout Scheme, by the University of Bradford and the UK Center for Economic and Environmental Development surveyed 2,000 of BT's telecommuting staff, also outlined negative aspects. Drawbacks for telecommuting included concern at increased working hours, and home-based telecommuters felt isolated from "social and professional interaction in the workplace" which, they said, can be demotivating and depressing. Some also said that telecommuting made it more difficult to get visibility at higher management level--a case of "out of sight, out of mind".

However, the overall feeling was that the advantages of working from home far outweighed the drawbacks. Adrian Hosford, director of BT group social policy, said the report reinforced the growing importance of flexible working for the company's employees and a national trend of increasing numbers of telecommuters.

"Most staff say they are enjoying an improved quality of life, reduced stress, feeling more productive," said Hosford. "BT is benefiting from higher employee productivity and morale as well as lower absenteeism."

The number of telecommuters in Europe has doubled in the past three years to 20 million, and in the UK more than 2.2 million people work at home online at least one day a week, according to a report in the latest Labor Market Trends from the Office of National Statistics. This figure accounts for 7.4 percent of the entire workforce.

In a separate report by Amicus, the trade union for skilled and professional people in public and private sectors, research revealed that workplaces are becoming more stressful every year. The report states that half of the respondents believe that stress is a bigger problem than five years ago, and a similar proportion said it had got worse in the last 12 months. Stress, according to the the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, is costing European countries at least 20bn euros annually.

Of the 2,000 union health and safety representatives surveyed, three out of four raised stress-related issues with employers. However, only one in three companies addressed the causes of employee stress.

Roger Lyons, joint general secretary of Amicus, said: "Employers need to look closely at the hours their staff are working and how their work and home lives are balanced."

The union's head of health and safety, Hugh Robertson, said: "Employers have to start addressing the real issues behind stress such as long hours, bullying and excessive demands, rather than looking at quick-fix solutions such as stress management courses, which do nothing to get rid of the underlying problems causing stress."


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