Joanna Moorhead: The hidden risks of working from home

It's mid-morning and I'm hard at work penning this piece from the comfort of my bed. Forget the desk, the power wardrobe, the frustrating journey to the office: my workplace is under the duvet, PJs on, and the furthest I have had to go today was to the kitchen for my early-morning cuppa.

Survey after survey has, after all, confirmed what most of us long suspected: going to work is bad for your health. Travel by tube does your lungs as much damage as smoking two cigarettes; office politics wear you down. Ozone-leaking photocopiers give you sore eyes and runny noses. Computers give you repetitive strain injury. Staying in the same position for hours at your desk gives you back and neck strain, and workplace bullies give you an inferiority complex.

Staying at home - preferably in bed - has got to be the healthy 21st-century alternative. Commuting is a lot less hazardous when it involves no more than sitting up and switching a light on: write by hand, as I am now, and the risk of RSI is almost nil. And the only workplace bully you're likely to encounter is the postman shouting through the letterbox that you're a lazy bugger and he'll leave your parcels on the doorstep.

Given the onward march of technology, in fact, it seems almost a crime to leave the warmth of your quilt to do a job: why not send an email with your laptop propped on a pillow, or chair a conference call in your dressing gown? Haven't all recent improvements in technology been directed at making this approach to work a reality? And isn't it ever so good for you?

Inevitably, of course, it now seems not. According to new research, turning your bedroom into an office can play havoc with your sleep patterns and put you at risk of - you've guessed it - ill health. The survey, for DuPont, found that one-sixth of respondents sometimes caught up with work from their beds. A third made work- related phone calls, while others sent emails and worked on laptops. The result, according to scientists studying the trend, is that we are finding it harder to unwind and put work behind us when it's time to go to sleep.

Apparently, many bed-based workers are neglecting their need for some shut-eye, with the result that they are finding it increasingly difficult to get the eight hours' sleep we apparently all need. And, yes, it is serious: sleep deprivation doubles your risk of a heart attack.

Perhaps it is time to put my idyllic bed-working lifestyle behind me and find something healthier. But what? Not getting up in the morning might, bizarrely, be putting my future at risk, but so too, when you think about it, does almost everything else you can do to make a living. Steffan Harper of the Leeds Occupational Advisory Service agrees - though few jobs, he says, are quite as dangerous as a career in the construction industry, and recent events in farming mean that even if you escape the hazards of agricultural machinery, you've still got long-term depression to deal with. Being a doctor, ironically, is no healthier: certainly not for a woman, as a survey last year found that women medics were twice as likely as other women to commit suicide. "Don't be a hairdresser, either," cautions Steffan. "One in two suffer from serious dermatitis."

Stress, meanwhile, has become endemic in so many workplaces that the TUC is using next week's European Health and Safety Week to suggest that employees give their office or workplace a health MOT and check out its stress rating by drawing a map of where they work and identifying the stress high spots. It's all enough to make you go back to bed and pull the duvet up over your head. Which is what I'll probably do.

The only consolation comes from Steffan: on balance, he says, it ain't what you do so much as the way that you do it. His suggestion for a healthy approach to work is to find a job that you enjoy that has lots of variety. Invest time in your home life, because having a happy five-to-nine will cushion you from the blows of the workplace battleground. Take all your holidays and, most important of all, don't make money your only goal. You won't get rich, but at least you'll be healthy.

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