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"Almost a third of employees have seen an impact on their mental health when working from home, with company owners being most affected."
At Wildgoose we have been tracking workplace wellbeing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. As many continue to live under restrictions we wanted to find out whether employee attitudes towards working from home have shifted throughout this time. With many companies set to adopt more regular home working arrangements after the Covid-19 pandemic is over, what do people want from their employers?
We asked employees from 133 companies how their working life differs from what they knew in the office, in order to find out:
- How prevalent are fatigue and exhaustion are in the current WFH setup
- How employers can adapt to best meet the needs of their employees
- What can be done to make working from home a viable long-term plan for companies
- How lifestyle changes like lack of exercise are impacting people’s home working
- How the changes impacted people in different ways, with insights into parenting, company owners, and small to large businesses
Having already studied the shift in working patterns when restrictions first began, this time we have the benefit of comparison. With fresh insight into how employees have been impacted by almost a year of home working, we can reveal how their mindsets are shifting.
Our findings showed that employers have struggled to tackle the mental and physical implications of working from home, which have become clearer as the months have gone on. There is still a long way to go in promoting employee wellbeing, maintaining company ethos and creating a workspace of the same standard seen in offices. Read on to dig into the details...
Do employees want to continue working from home post-lockdown?
This was also our first question in the 2020 survey, and the way people’s answers have changed indicates a gradual onset of home working fatigue – a change of 5% so far. The novelty of home working has gone, and employees are increasingly yearning for an escape from day-to-day home life and a return to the social rhythms of office working. While home working remains popular, the idea seems most attractive in a ‘flexible’ form rather than as the blanket rule seen during the strictest periods of lockdown.
We’ve delved into virtually every aspect of home working, but the fundamental question is still whether employees actually enjoy it. People’s personal experiences differ depending on their circumstances, but it seems that for most, the pros of being able to work remotely still significantly outweigh the cons. Employees are still overwhelmingly in favour of staying at home after the lockdown has ended.
“Would you like to continue working from home after the lockdown has ended?”
With 69% in favour of continued home working, it’s clear that it has its numerous benefits, and you only have to work at home for a few days to see them – from cutting commuting costs to increased time spent with family. Interestingly, additional data from our survey shows differences in opinion, depending on size of employer and people per household…
What does the size of the company tell us?
SMEs are best for employee satisfaction when working from home
- Working from home is most popular (with 83% in favour) among companies that are small to medium in size – those with between 10 and 99 employees.
- This may be because a company of this size has the resources to supply adequate and comfortable working equipment, and is not so large that departments and teams feel disconnected from one another.
Surprising similarities between the self-employed and large enterprises
- Large companies with an employee base of 1000+ (62% said yes), or individuals that are self-employed (69% said yes), are the least likely to want to continue working from home.
- While those who are self-employed are used to working alone, people in large companies might feel they are part of a big ‘faceless’ team and value face-to-face communication more. Implementing effective wellbeing strategies and a remote sense of community in these companies continues to be a challenge.
“What could your company do better to address burnout, increased stress, or fatigue when working from home?”
Looking closely at the key findings among employee responses, there are clear differences in what people want their employers to focus on depending on the size of the company.
- Employees of large companies are crying out for more casual communication between colleagues, with over half (54%) stating that this would help combat daily fatigue.
- This is topped only by 63% who stated that they would like the company to ‘encourage physical health and wellness incentive programmes’. Employees from large companies are most likely to state (38%) that their physical health has deteriorated during lockdown.
- Nearly 2 in every 5 (38%) of the self-employed are negating to take their allocated annual leave. With annual leave for the self-employed already often low, this could be contributing to the 64% who have suffered fatigue, stress or burnout at home – there is a clear correlation between poor mental health and not taking time away from work.
- Medium sized companies have the highest rate of employees who have worked through illness while working from home, with 42%. HR teams need to make sure that employees are encouraged to take sick leave when needed.
- With the most employees who have worked through illness during lockdown, it’s perhaps unsurprising that employees from medium sized companies also have the greatest workload. Nearly 3 in 5 (58%) employees state that they’re expected to do more at home, and a reduced workload would help combat fatigue, stress, and burnout.
Almost a third of employees have seen an impact on their mental health when working from home. Where have the effects been felt?
Much has been said about the impact of working from home on mental health. It’s clear that an increased sense of isolation, a lack of movement and reduced levels of motivation have affected millions. Our own survey found that almost a third (31%) of employees have felt depressed, anxious, or suffered from exhaustion during lockdown.
We asked workers about how fatigue, stress and burnout have impacted them while working from home, and 74% said they had been affected in some way. Nearly 2 in 5 (36%) say that it has affected their mental health.
Mental health: the impact at home
We have measured how the wide-ranging mental health implications of home working have affected people’s personal relationships, sleep quality and physical health – and the results paint a clear picture of the state of the employee wellbeing.
- Nearly 1 in 3 have experienced worse sleep, a key indicator of poor physical and mental health
- Over a quarter have not looked after their physical health
- Almost 1 in 6 employees have seen their relationship with their partner or spouse suffer
Mental health: the impact at work
Strains on home life are felt right across the working day. We have been able to measure how the lockdown has impacted employees’ ability to work, looking at areas like concentration, productivity, and creativity:
- 31% of employees have felt depressed, anxious, or suffered from exhaustion
- 30% cannot concentrate on tasks as well as they used to
- 29% are not sleeping as well as they used to
- 26% admit to being less productive during the day
- 26% have felt their physical health has been impacted
- 20% believe their ability to think creatively has suffered
The home exercise ‘boom’: what’s the right balance?
Exercise is known to have a hugely positive effect on mental health and wellbeing, releasing hormones that boost mood and help with productivity through the day. For employees working from home, we have measured how the effects of regular exercise have been felt in their home life and during the working day:
- Exercising ‘a few times a week’ was found to be the most effective. 33% of respondents who exercise this often stated that they had not suffered from any fatigue, stress, or burnout since working from home. This is compared to 29% who exercise weekly and 17% who exercise daily.
- Exercising ‘a few times a week’ also proved to be the best amount of exercise for ensuring a good night’s sleep, boosting restfulness for 77% of respondents compared with 67% of those who exercise daily.
- 83% of those who exercise a few times a week were able to stave off depression, anxiety and exhaustion, compared to 67% of those who exercise daily and 64% of those who exercise weekly, clearly showing that this ‘moderate’ approach is best for maintaining mental health
- However, those that exercise daily were found to benefit most during the working day, with 83% remaining productive and 78% able to concentrate consistently when working from home. This dropped to 81% productivity and 75% concentration for those who exercise a few times a week, and 79% and 64% respectively for those exercising just once a week.
Company owners hit by burnout the hardest: How does the level of support change by job level?
In the wake of the news that Monzo banking app founder Tom Blomfield is leaving his company due to pandemic-related stress, our findings show that company owners are the most likely to suffer with mental health problems as a result of lockdown.
- Nearly 2 in 5 (36%) have suffered from depression, anxiety, or suffered with exhaustion.
- This could show a link to the struggles seen among the self-employed – with those who are ‘out on their own’ without an immediate team to confide in most likely to suffer.
- 45% of company owners say that they haven’t been able to look after their physical health since working from home, and 27% say that their ability to concentrate on tasks has suffered. As we have seen there is a clear link between the two.
A balancing act: How have parents been affected?
Everyone has had to find new ways to balance home life and working life during lockdown, with the two suddenly thrown together at short notice. However, parents in particular have struggled, with sustained periods of daily home schooling to fit around their own jobs making them one of the most vulnerable groups to stress, burnout and fatigue.
- 81% of employees who are parents (over 4 in every 5) have suffered from negative impacts of fatigue when working from home. This compares to 68% of non-parents who have suffered the same impacts.
- Schools are in a continuing state of flux and working parents are having to pick up teaching duties, and for those parents who are able to work from home effectively this could be because a family unit takes steps to support them.
- 42% of parents would like more support with childcare from their employers during lockdown, with initiatives like flexible working hours or online learning support for their children. Many companies are already providing the former, and simply communicating with employees and checking in on their wellbeing can make a significant difference.
What do employees want from their companies and HR teams?
With 74% of workers having suffered negative effects of fatigue, stress, or burnout since working from home, what are employees asking their employers and HR teams to do in order to tackle the problem?
The three biggest issues were found to be working hours, fitness and casual social time between colleagues:
- Keep communication and work expectations within working hours - 55%
- Encourage fitness / wellness with incentivised programs - 51%
- Encourage more everyday casual communication between colleagues - 49%
The next steps: How companies can use technology to increase social interaction
As was the case in our previous study during the first lockdown in 2020, companies are still adapting to home working – and interaction with colleagues remains the best way to maintain a happy and healthy workforce wherever they are. This can be achieved with the right technology in place, and although some companies may have greater resources than others, all organisations can take steps to better replicate their company culture at home.
It’s important not to underestimate just how effective team building is during a period like this. Making team building a key part of an employee wellbeing strategy delivers tangible results even in challenging circumstances. Communication continues to be key – but this needs to be casual ‘breakout’ communication, not simply meetings to discuss work. A single non-work related conversation could be more beneficial in tackling isolation than a whole day of work related video conferencing.
When it comes to team building it’s crucial to focus on new employees as well as existing ones. It’s now commonplace for people to start working for a company without meeting any of their new colleagues in person, so having a digital induction process in place helps ensure company values are in place from day one – and lays the foundation for a successful career long after lockdown has finished.
Employees still prefer home working, so now is the time to make permanent changes
The benefits of remote working are still bigger than the costs. Businesses are continuing to iron out problems into 2021 but by treating this as a permanent shift rather than a temporary inconvenience, they are more likely to make a success of it now and in the future.