Cross-sectional and future relationships with burnout and wellbeing

Background

The purpose of this study was to find out if mismatches in telework, i.e. an inconsistency between the actual and desired extent of telecommuting, is cross-sectionally as well as prospectively linked to health and burnout.

Methods

A questionnaire was distributed to employees at the Swedish manufacturing firm in November of 2020 (baseline) in September 2020 (baseline) and then on September 20, 2021 (follow-up). It asked about wellbeing (WHO-5 Wellbeing index) as well as burning out (Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire III) and the preferred amount of telework, as well as the extent of telework. Telework mismatch was defined as the variation between the preferred and actual amount of working remotely. The change between mismatch and time defined as: 1)) lower mismatch at the follow-up stage than when baseline was at) more mismatch after follow-up and) similar levels of mismatch between the baseline and at follow-up. Multivariate and univariate analysis of variance were employed to assess the impact of mismatch and changes between time and mismatch on the baseline rating as well as changes in the ratings of burnout and wellbeing. All analyses were conducted without or with adjustments for gender, age or marital status, children, the type of work, commute time, and the extent of telework.

Results

The rate of response was 39 percent at the beginning ( n = 928, 67% males, mean(SD) age: 45(11) years) and 60% following the follow-up ( n = 556 men, 64, mean(SD) age: 46(11) years). A cross-sectional correlation was observed between telework mismatch and wellbeing and wellbeing, revealing that employees who worked more than they wanted to had lower wellbeing compared to those who worked less than they’d prefer. There was no statistically significant relationship discovered between telework mismatches and burnout. The power of mismatch in telework at base to forecast changes in burnout or wellbeing over a period of 10 months was minimal and not statistically significant. There was no correlation between changes in the telework mismatch over a 10 months and the corresponding changes in burnout or wellbeing.

Conclusion

Our results suggest that telework should be thoughtfully practiced in companies/organizations to avoid negative consequences for employees who already telework more than they prefer. It is necessary to study what long-term changes between actual and preferred levels of telework affect wellbeing of employees, and how this relationship is affected due to how the workplace is structured and working environment.

Background

Telework is not a brand new phenomenon, but it did receive the most interest in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. While telework may have various terms and to a certain degree, differing definitions, it’s generally seen as a workplace procedure that involves working outside of the office space employing technology to complete work [1 2, 3[1, 2]. When the SARS pandemic hit the term “telework” became synonymous with working from home because of the restrictions that were put in place to stop spreading of SARS-CoV-2 infection. OECD has reported higher rates of telework in all countries however, there was a significant variation among countries in the magnitude of the growth [33. Within the European Union, the proportion of workers who telework increased from 15 percent in 2019 to around 48% by 2020 [4, 5].

In Sweden there was a little more than 40% of employees began working from home due to COVID-19 [6]. The Swedish government did not impose any lockdowns, but did issue recommendations concerning e.g., staying in the house if you are suffering from symptoms or symptoms, working from home, avoid public transport when feasible, and avoiding proximity from others [7 8, 7[7, 8]. Because of the limited amount of studies included and their methodology weaknesses in the study, no definitive conclusions could be drawn on the connection between working from home and health of employees. The two reviews both concluded further research is required in this field.

Based on the theory of person-environment fit how well a person and their work environment can affect outcomes like job satisfaction and wellbeing [15-16,1716-17]. If the traits of the individual and his/her workplace are in good alignment then the outcomes will be positive [1717. One of the aspects that determine the suit is the content of the job, which includes the tasks that are performed. The person-environment-occupation model [18, 19] emphasizes the importance of the dynamic interaction between the individual, the work environment and the work-related activities for a person’s experience over time. In a context of telework those who work in the way they would like can experience their working environment differently than those who can’t work as much as they’d like or who have to work from home more than they want to. To support the above, Otsuka and co. [20] concluded that employees who preferred telework experience less psychological stress than those who prefer not to work when they teleworked more than 4 days a week. De Wind et al. (21), concluded that a mismatch between the employees having access to and requirements to work from home was interspersed with higher work-from-home stress and fatigue. However, the mismatch did not correlate with any changes in outcomes within one year.

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