Two in three anxious about returning to work as lockdown eases
As the UK government announces further easing of lockdown and stimulus for the economy, two-thirds of UK workers (61.6%) would also prefer to work from home in some capacity, even when the pandemic is over – with that number rising to three-quarters (74.9%) for those based in London.
These are among the key findings from a first-of-its-kind study launched today by behavioural science consultancy, Mind Gym.
Two-thirds (63.2%) of British workers have revealed they are anxious about returning to the workplace due to COVID-19. One third (32.8%) of workers are specifically concerned about their health and coming into contact with the virus, whilst one in ten are concerned about the risk to their family’s health (10.8%) and adapting to a new working environment (12.8%).
Notably, despite being a typically lower risk age group, the Gen Z demographic proves to be most concerned – with three quarters of millennials anxious about returning to their place of work (74.8%). One in ten UK workers (10.6%) are concerned about being made redundant upon their return to the workplace, whilst one in twenty (5.7%) are concerned about their company going out of business entirely.
The study, conducted through consultation with over 2,000 respondents from the UK workforce – all of whom are currently employed and working from home (i.e., not on furlough or serving notice) – has highlighted that leadership and management need to work candidly with their workforce to navigate the return to work period, and ensure that wellbeing and morale are operational priorities.
Octavius Black, co-founder and CEO of Mind Gym and behavioural science expert commented: “The UK has adapted quickly to remote working, which has been essential in keeping businesses running throughout lockdown. However, even though two thirds of the UK workforce are expressing anxiety about the return to the office, to continue these efforts in sustaining business, company leaders require their employees to return to the office.
“Whilst 80% of those polled do want to work from an office at least one day a week, telling employees that they are required back in the office imminently is likely to backfire and undo all the gains for the sensitive handling of the crisis so far.”
Whilst flexible working and operating from home is likely to become a permanent feature, business leaders would be wise to ensure a level of hybrid working so colleagues can build relationships, innovate faster and collaborate successfully.
Of those surveyed, an extreme majority of participants within legal fields (90%), sales, media and marketing (81.8%) and HR (76.93%) displayed that they are anxious about the return to the physical workplace. Over half of respondents from industries which can’t operate as easily from a home office are too displaying signs that they do not want to be within a physical office with any urgency, such as respondents in the arts sector (54.5%) and travel sector (52.18%).
Data from this same Mind Gym survey highlighted that a significant proportion of the UK have experienced weaker work relationships (15.2%) since lockdown. Whilst the thought of being in an office produces feelings of anxiety for such a large portion, it’s clear that there are positives to the office environment which management aren’t currently equipped to effectively replicate whilst working remotely: namely, the ability to be around colleagues. The data shows that those softer elements of work life are integral, as the UK workforce is significantly missing informal conversations (36.9%), building relationships (23.8%) and learning from colleagues (19.7%).
Octavius continues: “The informal air that an office environment brings is often integral to business growth, as well as the personal growth of employees. What could start as an informal chat can easily find its way to a developed, intelligent idea, which now doesn’t happen with such ease. Zoom calls and team meetings with rigid agendas don’t mimic this natural brilliance that can often happen in person.
“Whilst these shortfalls of remote working aren’t simple to overcome, those in leadership roles owe it to their employees to at least address this, in turn reducing workforce anxiety. The importance of communication and encouraging collaborative learning to somewhat mimic the office environment, as well as working with employees on an individual level to learn about their concerns, is crucial.
“To support businesses as they plan for a smooth return to the office, Mind Gym has developed a 10-point plan, including the below points:
- Empathise with employees’ fears – maybe share some of your own
- Make sure that the first people to come back do so voluntarily
- Share with remote workers what it’s like for these early returners
- Find practical ways to reduce the risk of infection at work
- Remind people how they will gain personally such as sparking ideas off each other, learning faster, and having a laugh.”
Due to the pandemic, almost half (44%) of working adults in the UK have undertaken the working from home procedure, as directed by the UK government. Whilst guidelines currently advise employees who can operate from home to do so, there is a clear sense of movement from employers and HR as they prepare for some form of a return to the office in the coming months. Whilst businesses and employees alike can benefit from a physical workspace, it is the role of those in leadership positions to ensure that they do what they can to prepare and alleviate the pressures from their employees.