You'd think that working from home is all about warm slippers, hot cocoa and your cat purring contentedly on the desk next to you. Or maybe it's just you purring contentedly. Whatever. It's the life, right? Well, maybe not so much.
A study of workers in 15 countries released recently by the United Nations International Labour Organization found that even though technological advances have made it much easier for employees to work from home, the negative side effects can be significant. It doesn't matter if an employee is "highly mobile" (always on the run), a regular at-home worker or one who splits time between home and the office — it's just more stress than even a few daytime episodes of Dr. Phil can treat.
For example, and as reported in Medical Xpress, 41 percent of "highly mobile" employees who work out of the office said they felt some degree of stress, compared to 25 percent of office workers. For those regular at-home workers, 42 percent said they suffered from insomnia compared to only 29 percent of their colleagues at the office. Is this because they're taking naps when they're at home all day so they can't sleep at night? Even though I have my suspicions, the data provided other reasons.
The report said that it's more stressful to work at home because the environment brought risks of "longer working hours, higher work intensity and work-home interference." This can result in unpaid overtime and lack of sleep — and please, let's not even mention the neighbor's dog that keeps barking at the exact moment you're trying to have a conference call.
The U.N. report urged governments to develop policies for helping companies manage remote workers that takes into consideration these added levels of stress. The report highlighted the labor code in France which, for example, entitles workers to "the right to be disconnected" and to have wine and cheese breaks whenever desired (OK, that last part was a joke, but you believed it for a minute, didn't you?).
The takeaway for U.S. employers? Balance. Working from home can be a good and productive benefit to provide to employees. Study after study shows that Millennials, who make up about half the workforce, desire more mobility and independence. But face time in the office is also very important. "Two to three days working from home seems to be that sweet spot," one of the study's authors said in the Medical Xpress article.
Of course, all bets are off when the kids are on summer break.
A version of this column originally appeared on Inc.com.