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The effect of preference and actual days spent working from home on stress and musculoskeletal pain in older workers

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Objectives: The rapid shift to working from home (WFH) due to the COVID-19 pandemic provided a unique opportunity to examine the relationship between preferred and actual days spent working from home on employees musculoskeletal pain (MSP) and stress in older workers. Methods: This study uses three waves of data from the Employees Working from Home (EWFH) study collected in May 2021 (n = 451), November 2021 (n = 358) and May 2022 (n = 320) during the COVID-19 pandemic. A generalised mixed-effect model was used to model the relationships between preference and actual days spent WFH, stress and MSP. Exploratory mediation analysis was conducted to further explore significant relationships between actual days WFH and outcomes. Results: WFH was associated with increasing stress levels in older participants, when the actual number of days WFH increased (B: 0.051, 95% CI: 0.008, 0.094) and when the number of days WFH exceeded their preferences (B: 0.218, 95% CI: 0.087, 0.349). Actual number of days spent WFH and stress in older employees was mediated through their sense of community (Indirect effect: 0.014, 95% CI: 0.003, 0.03; p = 0.006). The relationship between WFH and MSP was variable. For older employees, WFH more than their preferred number of days was associated with a higher likelihood of reporting MSP (OR: 4.070, 95% CI: 1.204, 13.757). Conclusions: Findings from this study support the need for flexible policies to support WFH which take into account employees preferences. For older workers, a sense of community was found to be important and proactive attempts to restore this will be important for maintain their health and supporting sustainable employment.


This study was funded by Medibank/Optus.


Publication Date



International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health




(p. 1113-1121)


Springer Nature



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© The Author(s) 2023 This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

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