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Wellbeing in a dissolved workplace: Towards a new work-life balance?

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Published on Wednesday, 07 April 2021

The project W@W is one of six new interdisciplinary research projects which received multi-year funding in the context of the Audacity funding instrument of the University’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

The project W@W (Wellbeing @ Work), led by lawyer Prof. Luca Ratti and psychologists Profs. Anna Elena Kornadt and Claus Vögele, evaluates how the wellbeing of employees in home office has changed since the start of the pandemic and will provide evidence to guide the introduction of new regulatory tools and practices. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, research on workers’ fundamental rights and wellbeing was mainly focused on concerns linked to digitalisation, the automation of working environments and the emergence of new digital forms of work. With the start of the pandemic, the focus has widened. The pandemic has resulted in changes to the working arrangements of millions of employees.  Since early 2020, roughly 40% of those currently working in the EU began to telework fulltime and may continue to work at home, in some capacity, for the foreseeable future. In Luxembourg, more than 56% of respondents started to work from home as a result of the COVID-19 situation in April/May 2020. The move to the confined home office initiated a radical change in the working paradigm: the workplace as we traditionally knew it unexpectedly disappeared, leaving working people and employers alike without a stable anchor.

“The recent and ongoing COME-HERE and PANDEMIC surveys to assess the wellbeing of the population during the pandemic have shown that more and more people in home office face physical and more importantly psychological difficulties due to factors like lack of personal contacts with colleagues, unsuitable working environments at home, isolation from social gatherings, endless working schedules and working on the weekends,” explains Prof. Vögele, a clinical and health psychologist at the Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (FHSE). In W@W, he aims to evaluate the interactions of mental health, health behaviours and changes to the work environment alongside his colleague Prof. Kornadt. “It will be interesting to see how changed work structures and regulations have impacted the wellbeing of people across the life span and in different life contexts: What happens to older people who have been less used to work remotely or digitally before? Or to people with family obligations? The same rules and regulations might impact people very differently depending on their resources and situation,” says Prof. Kornadt, a psychologist and head of the Institute of Lifespan Development, Family and Culture at the Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (FHSE).

Policy makers are attempting to address such changes to the working environment rapidly by considering the introduction of new laws. Germany for example plans to introduce a right to work from home for a minimum of 24 days a year after the pandemic ends. The draft law also stipulates that working hours in home office must be documented digitally. France had already introduced a so-called right to disconnect on 1 January 2017 for employees who work remotely. This means that workers have the right to switch off their devices after work—without facing consequences for not replying to e-mails, calls or messages. In reality, its details are still to be determined at enterprise level; the decision whether and how to grant such rights remains at the discretion of employers, and no sanctions are provided for employers that do not comply.

Regulations for home office activities are clearly called for but should be based on empirical evidence. The W@W project aims to support policy makers with empirical evidence regarding the effects of changes on the regulation of work and health and wellbeing of workers across the working life. Prof. Luca Ratti, lawyer in European and comparative labour law at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance, coordinates the legal part of W@W. “In a first period, the project will analyse the data from the six countries surveyed in the COME-HERE and PANDEMIC projects (Germany, France, Luxembourg, Italy, Spain and Sweden) on telework, privacy at work, and wage policies and productivity. We will benefit from the cooperation with the Ferrero company based in Luxembourg, which agreed to support the project and become its case study. In a second period, the project will assess structural regulatory changes introduced during or because of the pandemic, with the aim to elaborate policy proposals,” explains Prof. Ratti.

The W@W project will start on 1 May 2021.

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