In late March 2020, we were told – by the Prime Minister no less – to work at home if we could. How many workers were able to respond to this call and what effect did this have on their mental well-being? Alan Felstead (Cardiff University and PrOPEL) and Darja Reuschke (University of Southampton) present analysis of new data which answers these questions.
Their findings are based on data collected as part of a monthly survey carried out as a follow-up to the UK Household Longitudinal Study (also known as Understanding Society), a large representative sample survey of the adult population. Their findings are based on responses given by around 7,000 workers who worked at least one hour a week, were not furloughed and provided information on where they worked either side of the lockdown. Respondents were asked to complete an online survey which was carried out between 24-30 April and referred to respondents’ activities in the previous month, hence coinciding with the first full month of the UK-wide lockdown.
This new evidence showed that homeworking rose dramatically in the first month of lockdown in the UK. The sudden change in the level of homeworking was most striking among employees – rising from 3% to 44%. The self-employed were more accustomed to working at home even before the pandemic started, although even among them homeworking also rose sharply. Furthermore, the sudden movement of work into the home meant that many of those working at home in the lockdown were new to this way of working. Around half of employees fall into this category.
Declining levels of mental well-being in lockdown has become a general public health concern. However, the mental health levels of new homeworkers was much the same as those who had previous experience of living and working in the same space. This suggests that homeworking itself has had little effect on reducing mental well-being and that other factors, such as home schooling and the limits on free movement, are behind falling levels of subjective well-being.
Other findings include:
- One month into the lockdown, 44% of women and 46% of men were exclusively working at home.
- Almost two-thirds of workers (63%) worked from home at least some of the time during the lockdown compared to an estimated 12% in 2019.
- 52% of female employees and 46% of male employees who worked at home during the lockdown were ‘new’ homeworkers who had not worked at home before the lockdown.
- The growth of homeworking varies across the UK with substantially higher proportions of new homeworkers in regions/countries with previously relatively low rates of homeworking.
- In aggregate, the mental health of new homeworkers does not differ from those with more experience of working in this way. Nevertheless, new homeworkers report greater difficulties in concentrating, more exposure to depression and a reduced ability to enjoy day-to-day activities.
Further information can be found in this report: The Effect of the Great Lockdown on Homeworking in the United Kingdom.