Work return uncertainty adding to employees’ stress

Growing numbers of employees are suffering mental strain amid their uncertainty around if and when they need to return to the workplace.

Wellbeing solutions provider LifeWorks, released its monthly Mental Health Index report, revealing a negative mental-health score among Britons for the 15th consecutive month. The Mental Health Index score in June reached -10.9 compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark, which is the highest point since the inception of the index in April 2020 when the mental-health score was -13.8.

In June, the research found that while many organisations have begun preparing return-to-workplace strategies, a significant portion of Britons required clearer communication on office reopening plans.

“Nearly one-quarter (21 per cent) of Britons are unclear of their employer’s plan for work going forward, while another 11 per cent do not believe that their employer has a plan,” said the report. “These groups also reported the lowest mental health scores (-17.5 and -18.6, respectively) when compared to employees stating their employer’s plan is clear.”

“Prolonged periods of remote work and continued lockdown extensions are contributing to ongoing confusion and mental strain among Britons,” said Philip Mullen, Managing Director, UK and Europe. “The news that many parts of the country are reopening this week is encouraging, however, we can’t lose sight of the reality that although this change feels positive, change can be unsettling for many. It is critical that organisations continue to prioritise mental health and employee wellbeing, while also proactively communicating the mental health resources available to employees to ease the transition back to the physical workplace.”

When reviewing employees’ expectations about the return to the workplace the report found:

  • More than one-third (38 per cent) expect that their employer will want all employees working in their pre-pandemic environment.
  • Sixteen per cent believe that their employer will allow remote work to continue.
  • Sixteen per cent expect to work onsite at their office at least part of the time; and
  • Only five per cent expect to have the flexibility to choose their work location.

The country’s ongoing vaccination programme is also an issue for British workers, according to the report.
It said in April 2021, more than one-third (40 per cent) of Britons reported that vaccination against COVID-19 or reaching herd immunity would most improve their outlook for the future. In June 2021, the research found that those who report being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have the most favourable mental health score (-8.8). The least favourable score is seen among those who are not vaccinated but intend to be (-16.5). This group also showed the worst isolation score (-17.3), followed by those who are partially vaccinated (-11.9).

“Rapid recovery and Briton’s rising vaccination rate has brought on a sense of hope among many employees; however, our data is telling us that partially or unvaccinated individuals continue to face a high degree of uncertainty,” said Paula Allen, Global Leader and Senior Vice President, Research and Total Wellbeing. “As we return to feelings of normalcy over the next few months, we need to remember that arriving at pre-pandemic levels of mental wellbeing will require support and transparency from family, friends and most importantly, employers. This means prioritising and destigmatising mental health conversations at home and in the office to drive change.”

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“Nearly one-quarter (21 per cent) of Britons are unclear of their employer’s plan for work going forward, while another 11 per cent do not believe that their employer has a plan,” said the report. “These groups also reported the lowest mental health scores (-17.5 and -18.6, respectively) when compared to employees stating their employer’s plan is clear.”

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