Work

Working in Pyjamas Doesn't Hamper Your Work-From-Home Productivity

But it may hit your mental health, a study finds.
December 15, 2020, 3:21pm
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Have you been unable to change out of your pyjamas since the pandemic started and you began to work from home? Have you also bid goodbye to uncomfortable workwear, hoping to never see them again? Well, I have both good and bad news for you.

A new study has found that working from home in pyjamas during the pandemic does not lower productivity. However, it could be linked to poorer mental health. The study, conducted by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, together with the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney, noted that 41 percent of respondents said they experienced increased productivity while working from home. At the same time, almost a third of the respondents said they also experienced poorer mental health.

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For the study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, researchers carried out a survey between April 30 and May 18 with staff, students, and affiliates of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research including the Garvan Institute, Children's Medical Research Institute, Centenary Institute, and Brain and Mind Centre. 

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The study also found that wearing comfy PJs was associated with more frequent reporting of poorer mental health. 59 percent of the participants who wore pyjamas during the day, at least one day a week, admitted the state of their mental health declined while working from home, when compared to 26 percent who had the same experience but did not wear pyjamas while working from home.

These findings must be taken with a pinch of salt because all of the 163 respondents work in the Australian set-up, and their experiences might not ring true for those who work in countries with a vastly different work culture. India, for example, is a lot more traditional, even as the definition of appropriate office dressing evolves.

“While we cannot determine whether wearing pyjamas was the cause or consequence of mental health deterioration, appreciation of the effect of clothing on cognition and mental health is growing, as observed in hospital patients: Encouraging patients to wear normal day clothes can reduce the severity of depression,” the study said.

This might have something to do with “enclothed cognition”, or what signals clothes send to the brain. The term was coined by social psychologist Adam Galinsky, in a 2012 study he co-authored at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which used white lab coats to test the impact of clothes on psychological processes. He’s now looking into the science of clothing and remote work.

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“In some ways, the clothes that you wear might have an even bigger impact because we can often see ourselves and what we’re wearing and that sort of draws that symbolic value [attached] to it even closer to our consciousness,” he told Livemint.

Even the Australian study associating pyjamas with mental health and productivity says, “The simple advice to get changed before beginning work in the morning might partially protect against the effects of COVID-19 restrictions on mental health, and would be less expensive than the 'fashionable' sleep or loungewear gaining popularity as working from home becomes the norm.”

Well, there go the star pieces of my pandemic wardrobe. 

Wearing pyjamas to work isn’t the only clothing-related trend we’ve adopted in the pandemic though. Along with two doctoral students at Columbia Business School, Galinsky is now also looking into the phenomenon of wearing something formal above the waist and casual sweatpants or shorts below screen level for video-conference calls, a clever little trick many white-collar workers have used in recent months. 

“Is there actually an inauthenticity cost or benefit for the fact that we often have these dualistic outfits, and what is that difference, how does that affect people? Maybe it can make people feel inauthentic. Or maybe it will feel like people have a little secret and that can be kind of a motivating thing, that they’re doing something other people don’t know about,” he told Livemint. Remember not to take work-from-home dressing too far, though. Galinsky warns that dressing up too much—say, wearing a formal business suit while working at home—could risk self-consciousness and distraction for some.

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But is your work-from-home attire the only thing that’s distracting you? Probably not. 

The Woolcock study also found that living with children reduced productivity of parents who were working from home, particularly toddlers who need to be constantly minded, and younger school children who need ample supervision during remote learning. The authors of the study admitted to having had similar experiences. They hope these findings help improve work‐from‐home policies, both by removing the stigma associated with wearing pyjamas, and by providing support for people juggling care for young children and maintaining productivity even when faced with distractions.

But until that happens, people have had to find their own ways to deal with distractions. A NASA scientist developed a whole formula for working from home during the pandemic. Rosemary Baize, deputy director for research and mission science in the Science Directorate at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, lives with her kids and dogs. She started by establishing clear boundaries. "During the day pretty much everybody knows that unless it's an emergency, that's work time," she said.

While Baize set up camp in her dining room, the Australian study also looked at people's working arrangements during the pandemic. For 42 percent of respondents, the kitchen or dining table was their choice of work-from-home setting. Meanwhile, three percent said they resorted to working in their bathrooms.

I mean, I’m not saying I haven’t had to work from my bathroom even once this year. But we’re in a pandemic, we’re all struggling to make it out of our jammies, so whatever works, right?

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