Working from home has become a permanent feature of the employment landscape for leading businesses in Australia. Three quarters of Australians now say their ideal work environment is a mix of remote and in-person working.
The hybrid model has brought many changes to employees across Australia. Some are beneficial, such as reducing the time spent commuting. On the other hand, WFH does have negative impacts to the employee, such as increased energy bills. As hybrid becomes the norm for desk-based jobs, employers will benefit from understanding these impacts and helping their workers to manage it.
Staff experiences on home energy management vary. If employees live in well-equipped homes with good insulation, draught sealing, and efficient heating and cooling appliances, they may find minor energy bill increases when WFH. However, most employees may live in draughty homes with insufficient insulation, no cooling and old, inefficient heating appliances. Most of the Australian housing stock was built prior the introduction to minimum energy efficiency standards (2005), and more than 9.5 million of the total 10m households are below the desirable energy efficiency standards.
Based on these numbers, the potential number of employees experiencing thermal discomfort and energy stress is high, really high! (Energy stress refers to financial concerns and anxiety caused by the energy cost, while thermal discomfort describes the unsatisfactory perception of thermal environment that can lead to lowered concentration, productivity, fatigue and in extreme cases to serious illness)
It is expected that this group of employees may trade off their comfort and health for lower energy bills. Have you ever wondered how many staff in your winter Zoom meetings have blankets on their laps to keep warm?
Moreover, Canstar Blue estimated back in 2020, that Victorians could have an increase of up to 45% on their electricity bill due to working from home setups. Meaning that the costs on electricity has been shifted to employees, and with the poor housing stock the increase on the bills has been significant; An average household in Victoria could be experiencing an increase of more than $50 per month and more than $600 annually.
Three months after the pandemic began a Melbourne resident contacted AEF and told us that although his household was energy conscious and had a 3kw solar system installed a few years ago, all their energy-saving behaviours were geared around night-time and weekend energy use. With three adults working from home, their energy costs had gone up significantly. Heating and cooling can contribute up to 37% of household energy bills (excluding vehicles) and with more time at home the increase was to be expected. This is a reality all over the country.
Some companies in Australia and around the world are taking initiative in supporting their employees in this new hybrid setup and have identified some of the risks and discomfort that their employees may be going through. A great example for this is Hallam, a digital agency based in Nottingham, UK. Their executive team has identified the increase on their employees’ electricity bills and have partnered with an energy switching organisation that provides advice to each employee on switching to a better clean electricity provider to alleviate some of the financial pressure, and as their managing director explains, try to balance purpose with profit.
There is a clear opportunity and need for employers to meet their employee health and well-being (including financial) obligations and commitments by supporting their employees in managing their energy use, costs and emissions when working from home. AEF is working with organisations around Australia, helping employees to understand their energy consumption and behaviours to provide them with solutions to reduce bills and emissions. With more than 21 years of experience, AEF offers tailored advice for employees to adapt to this new work setting and encourages organisations to support individuals in this transition, by promoting well-being and real environmental actions.
Are you interested in learning more? Contact us by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on (03) 9385 8585.
- PWC. (2021). “Hopes and Fears”. Retrieved from https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/upskilling/hopes-and-fears.html
- Australian Climate Council, 2021. FROM GLORIFIED TENTS TO RENEWABLE POWERHOUSES: AUSTRALIA’S OPPORTUNITY FOR HOME ENERGY EFFICIENCY
- NSW Government. Safe Work. Maintaining thermal comfort in indoor work environments | SafeWork NSW
- Canstar Blue, 2020. Working from Home Energy Costs to Add More Strain on Victorians (canstarblue.com.au)
- Saul Griffith, 2021. ‘The Big Switch’.
- The Drum, 2021. Energy costs are going up for home workers – so should agencies foot the bill?.
- Photo credit: Mikey Harris via Unsplash