More people than ever work from home one or more days a week. The practice of telecommuting has taken the business world by storm. Improvements in technology, the demand for more flexible work schedules and cost reduction strategies have contributed to this trend which has seen a dramatic increase over the last several years. Even people who live close to their place of work may take advantage of working remotely to eliminate commute time and provide flexibility to take care of midday appointments or family needs.
Most of the attention on telecommuting has focused on how it impacts work productivity and opportunities for promotion. But an important factor has been largely overlooked and absent from consideration – employee health. Employers and employees can both benefit from learning how telecommuting affects health.
Prudential Financial, a company with a long history in promoting work flexibility, in partnership with Truven Health endeavored to fill this gap and understand what affects telecommuting has on their overall employee health. The research study looked at amount of time telecommuting and potential health risks including depression, stress, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, tobacco use, alcohol abuse, and obesity.
Studying a time period of two years, our research suggests that telecommuters had lower risk for obesity, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity, and tobacco use. We found evidence that employees who engage in a small amount of telecommuting hours are likely to benefit positively from the activity including reducing their risk for depression.
The connection we found between telecommuting and lower health risks further strengthens the business case for support of flexibility and the connection between work-life and health. However, it is important to note that while our study provides some evidence to suggest that flexibility has health benefits, maintaining some level of in-office work may help to strengthen spiritual and social health. In the case of 100% remote workers, managers may want to ensure extra effort is made to stay connected to those workers and create inclusive opportunities with the rest of the team.
The study timeframe was only two years, so more research is needed to understand the longer term impact of working from home on health. The results from our study of the Prudential program are specific to their employee programs. And though not generalizable employers and health plans may be curious to see whether these health benefits translate to health care savings for their organizations.
Truven Health Analytics is encouraged and eager to help organizations examine the relationship between telecommuting intensity and health outcomes.
You can read more about our findings by downloading the full research brief, The Effects of Telecommuting Intensity on Employee Health.
Senior Director Behavioral Health and Quality Research