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Teleworkers more likely to work while sick, study finds

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Dortmund, Germany — People who work from home are more likely to continue working when they’re ill, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The researchers reviewed more than 25,000 responses to a 2015 survey that explored working conditions in the European Union. Findings show that respondents who worked from home on a daily basis did so on nearly 15% of the days in which they felt sick, compared with 3% for employees who teleworked less frequently. Additionally, workers who participated in telework several times a week or daily were 11 percentage points more likely to have worked while sick compared with people who never worked from home.

Citing research conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic – during which the prevalence of telework has increased – showing that working from home boosts work engagement, the researchers suggest employers “be aware that working from home despite illness could be a possible and health-promoting alternative to taking sick leave,” namely for workers with chronic disease.

 

“In this case, management and supervisors should support their employees and let them adapt their work according to their current state of health,” the researchers write.

Still, employers should remain mindful that although telework can improve an employee’s work-life balance, it also could increase the risk of “self-endangering” behaviors such as working more intensely and for longer hours.

The study was published in the December edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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