March 14, 2024

EU-OSHA Finds “Disproportionate Negative Impact” on Women Teleworkers

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has released a discussion paper on the differing occupational safety and health impacts on men and women teleworking in European Union countries. Telework, in which work that could be performed at the employer’s premises is carried out in another location using information and communication technologies, has become more prevalent in the EU and U.S. since 2020. The EU-OSHA paper notes that many studies analyzing telework have highlighted the relevance of gender and discusses recent trends and patterns. “Telework has the potential to improve work-life balance and improve women’s situation in the labor market,” the discussion paper states, “but research shows that telework has a disproportionate negative impact on women in terms of work-life conflict, stress, and health outcomes.”

The paper finds that the proportion of teleworkers in EU countries increased from 11 percent to 20 percent between 2019 and 2022, that women are slightly more likely to telework than men, and that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in telework being offered to a more diverse group of workers. Telework may increase employment and career opportunities for workers with caregiving responsibilities, which disproportionately fall to women. But telework arrangements may also increase psychosocial risks associated with work intensity, isolation, and intensive technology use, as well as physical risks for musculoskeletal disorders, eye strain, and headache.

Data collected by EU-OSHA shows differing risk exposures reported by men and women teleworkers and office workers. In teleworking arrangements, women are more likely to say that technology use increases their workload, whereas this gender gap does not exist for office workers. Women who telework are also significantly more likely than their male counterparts to report severe time pressure or work overload, work-related headaches or eyestrain, and work-related bone, joint, or muscle problems or pain.

According to the discussion paper, this data suggests that women who telework have lower quality working time compared to men. “Part of the gender differences identified above on severe time pressure, overload or physical health problems are explained because women continue to bear the bulk of care work, and this results in women’s ‘time poverty’ and higher work-life conflict,” the paper states. This “dual burden,” the paper explains, “has implications for physical health.” Other factors affecting the quality of telework include work intensity, work organization and autonomy, organizational culture, and “right to disconnect” initiatives intended to protect work-life balance.

The paper also discusses regulations in EU member countries that may affect the experience of women teleworkers, including occupational safety and health provisions, the right to disconnect, and the right to request telework. The EU Work-Life Balance Directive, recognizing workers’ rights to request flexible arrangements, has so far been adopted by six EU member states.

The discussion paper may be downloaded as a PDF from EU-OSHA’s website.