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Employee wellbeing showed decline before lockdown

Lockdown may have impacted employee wellbeing but new research suggests there were issues well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many people have been focused on worker’s wellbeing during lockdown, with concerns being raised about the effect that working from home for so long may be having. However, new research has found that employee wellbeing has actually been on the decline for the last two years, showing that lockdown isn’t the only factor at play. 

According to new research from the CIPD, fewer people now believe that work has a positive impact on their mental health. The survey of over 6,000 workers has revealed that just 35% now believe work helps their mental health, compared to 44% in the previous annual Good Work Index. With the COVID-19 pandemic having mental health implications of its own, it seems that companies need to ensure they are doing all they can to support their employees.

Workplace stress

Decline in workplace health

The Good Work Index looks at seven measurements that the CIPD believes contribute to long-term job quality. These include contracts, pay and benefits, job design, work-life balance, employee voice, relationships at work and health and wellbeing. 

Looking at these measurements reveals that even before coronavirus hit the UK, many people were reporting that their working lives were negatively impacting their wellbeing. The survey revealed that there is a downward trend in terms of work-related health overall, with 22% of respondents saying they are often or always exhausted at work. On top of this, 21% reported always or often being under excessive pressure and 11% said that they are usually miserable when at work. 

Some 32% of workers said that they have too big a workload for a standard week, suggesting that companies are asking too much of their employees. All of these factors mean that a quarter (24%) of respondents struggle to find time to relax in their personal life because of work concerns. 

Impact on mental health

Overall wellbeing isn’t the only thing being affected, workers are increasingly reporting that their work is resulting in mental health issues. Of those respondents who said that they had suffered from anxiety in the last year, a huge 69% said that their job has contributed to this. Well over half (58%) of those who have experienced depression in this time also said that work was a contributing factor.

The strain on the mental health of workers also seems to be getting worse due to the current COVID-19 crisis. CIPD has also released an updated survey of 1,001 employees to see how coronavirus is affecting them. 

Worryingly, 43% of those with a mental health condition have said that the pandemic has worsened or contributed to this condition. A further 29% of those with anxiety say the same thing while the pandemic has left 22% worried that it will likely mean they lose their jobs within the next 12 months. 

The CIPD’s Senior Research Advisor, John Gifford said: “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, work was becoming worse for our health. This is the complete opposite of how it should be – work can and should have a positive impact on people’s lives. As the full scale of the economic crisis unfolds, the outlook looks even bleaker. We’ll likely see employers trying to do more with less, which will only increase people’s workload and the pressure they are already under. Many people will also be worried about losing their job or living on a reduced income.

“While the Government is right to focus on protecting as many jobs as possible, it should also be encouraging employers to look at job quality. Not only is there a moral imperative to do so, but if people are happy and healthy in their jobs they also perform better, take less time off and are less likely to drop out of the workforce. In the long run, this will help us get on the road to economic recovery sooner.”

Company conference call

Employee wellbeing recommendations

To help companies ensure they are not negatively impacting their employees’ health and wellbeing, the CIPD has a number of recommendations including:

  • Ask employees about workloads on a regular basis.
  • Ensure workers are not under excessive pressure.
  • Provide managers with training to ensure they can have supportive discussions on wellbeing.
  • Ensure managers understand how important regular communication is while remote working and that they are checking in with their teams.
  • Promote work benefits around health and wellbeing so employees know what is available.
  • Allow employees more control over how, where and when they work to better promote work-life balance.

While working remotely, you might want to consider what else your company can offer to help improve overall wellbeing. Weekly video catch-ups, team quizzes, virtual classes - like yoga - and monthly employee one-to-ones can all help people feel connected while working remotely. Ensuring every employee has a chance to raise concerns will also ensure you have a better idea of how to support everyone individually, as a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the best idea.

When it comes time to re-open your office, there are also steps you can take to ensure everyone feels happy and safe returning to work. To start with, you should make sure you’re able to adhere to office social distancing guidelines, which may mean investing in new office furniture to ensure everyone can work at least two metres apart from others. You should communicate the steps you’ve taken to employees before they return to the office.

It is also a good idea to talk to each member of staff individually to ensure that their individual situations will allow them to come back to work. Those with health concerns may wish to continue working remotely while workers without childcare options will likely appreciate some flexibility. Many employees across the UK are also planning on asking for continued flexible working, so you should consider how this may work across the company.

On top of all of these steps, companies need to think about permanent steps to take to improve the overall health and wellbeing of tier employees. A good place to start is with an anonymous employee survey so you can see exactly where the problem areas are. 

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