The study found little evidence of a negative impact on mental health from increased homeworking during a pandemic

Since the beginning of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), home working has increased significantly worldwide. Recently PLoS Medicine study investigates whether working from home affects an individual’s social and mental well-being. This assessment is crucial to understand how people will be affected if higher levels of home working are practiced in the future.

Study: Homework and social and mental well-being at different stages of the UK COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from 7 longitudinal population studies. Image credit: Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock


The International Labor Organization reported that 17% of the global workforce worked from home in the second quarter of 2020. In the United States, more people, ie. around 37% were engaged in home-based work in 2020. These numbers are higher than forecasts for 2019, when around 27% to 30% of people worked from home in the UK.

Interestingly, even when the work-from-home guidance was lifted, the number of people working from home was 12% higher than in the pre-pandemic period. It is essential to understand whether this rapid change in the work environment has affected the mental health and well-being of workers in different fields. Furthermore, it is imperative to understand whether social inequalities, gender, age, hours worked and education influence the relationship between homeworking and mental health.

About the survey

The present study analyzed data from seven population-based studies in the United Kingdom, which included three age-homogeneous and four age-heterogeneous cohorts. Age-homogeneous studies were Next Steps (NS), the British Cohort Study 1970 (BCS70) and the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS). The age-diverse birth cohorts included in this study are the Understanding Society or UK Household Longitudinal Study (USOC), Generation Scotland (GS), the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA) and Born in Bradford (BiB).

All participants were assessed in three key periods viz. from April to June 2020 (T1), from July to October 2020 (T2) and from November 2020 to March 2021 (T3). In T1, an initial increase in SARS-CoV-2 infection occurred and the first national lockdown was implemented. During T2, the initial restrictions were eased, while at T3 the infection rate increased and the second national lockdown was initiated.

This study included participants between the ages of 16 and 66. The surveys obtained information on mental health and social well-being before and after the pandemic. In addition, harmonizing analyzes within each study and pooling assessments helped generate evidence on how home working affected mental well-being during the pandemic.

Survey results

A total of 10,367 participants at T1, 11,585 at T2, and 12,179 at T3 were included in this study. Based on USCO data, before the pandemic, about 30% of the population worked from home. Numbers increased at T1, ranging between 32.9% and 65.5% across studies.

A limited number of studies have shown that homework improves social contact at T1. Similarly, when restrictions were relaxed at T2, no significant relationship was found between homework and social/mental well-being. Interestingly, those who partially work from home and are over the age of 50 are at increased risk of psychological distress. A similar observation was made for those who worked full-time outside the home.

In the UK’s second lockdown, both full and part-time home work increased the risk of psychological distress and loneliness, particularly for those aged between 30 and 49 and without a degree. This may be because people in this age group face additional pressures due to homeschooling and childcare responsibilities.

Different effects of homework on individuals have been found based on population subgroups. Many people have lost their jobs, been laid off and experienced changes to their working hours during the pandemic. During the pre-pandemic period, working from home was associated with numerous benefits, including job satisfaction, greater employee productivity, reduced sick leave and a better perception of work-life balance.

Limitations of the study

The current study has many limitations, which include the presence of unobserved confounders and the lack of pre-pandemic data in most observational studies. Although pre-pandemic welfare is adjusted, there is the possibility of changes in welfare after measurement. The definition of working from home is complex and can be categorized into multiple sections such as telecommuting, telecommuting, working at home, and working from home.


No significant adverse effects on social and psychological well-being were found for increased homework. However, some studies have shown that homeworking was weakly associated with an increased risk of loneliness and psychological distress when the national lockdown was re-imposed. However, when the restrictions were relaxed, no such results were observed. More research and ongoing monitoring is needed in the future to better understand whether homeworking increases inequalities in social and mental well-being.

Written by

Dr. Priyam Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and accomplished science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research papers that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and amateur photographer.


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