UK professionals in ‘top 5’ for poorest mental health during lockdown

UK is amongst the top 5 countries where professionals have recorded a negative impact to their wellbeing – with a third (30%) claiming poor mental health as a direct result of working from home.

Factors causing a decline in mental health for UK professionals include:

  • Lack of physical interaction with the team (69%)
  • Inability to separate home & working life (59%)
  • Distractions at home (47%)
  • Lack of structure to working day (37%)
  • Working longer hours (36%)

The findings come from global recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, who surveyed professionals across 24 countries to find out their experiences of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of the study have been published today in time for Mental Health Awareness Week, alongside the Mental Health and the Remote Workplace e-guide.

Sam Walters, Director of Professional Services at Robert Walters comments: “The findings from the survey are concerning and during a health crisis it is not exactly the kind of news employers want to hear. Much like the government and science world with the COVID-19 virus, companies are learning things daily about how to deal with a remote workforce.

“Now that we are over the physical transition and have our designated workspace at home and are comfortable with the technology, our attention must be turned towards the mental health and wellbeing of staff.

“Economic uncertainty, health fears, furlough, risk of redundancy, reduced or longer hours, social isolation, poor physical work set-up, home schooling – these are all fresh concerns which employees did not have to worry about two months ago.

“Employers should be mindful of these concerns, and if they haven’t done so already should be ramping up the support for staff in this area – whether it be through sharing third party advice and tips, paying for external support, or altering working practices.”

Mounting pressure

A quarter of professionals stated that ‘more pressure to deliver results’ when working from home is negatively impacting their mental health.

In fact, a third of managers stated that they have started to hold ‘more regular catch-ups’ with their staff during lockdown – with 20% stating they have multiple catch-ups a day over the phone, and a further 37% having a call once-a-day.

Sam Walters comments: “As a manager regular communication is important when your entire team is remote working – but the key here is balance. The expectation for your staff to always be available for a call or to respond back within minutes can cause undue anxiety.

“The fact is that we are all at home and so let’s not unnecessarily expect staff to be at their laptop or phone for every minute of their core hours.

“Minor adjustments like prioritising small-talk means that your staff feel less dread when you call and opens them up on a wellbeing level. Managers should build in some flexibility for their daily or weekly check-ins, allowing staff to occasionally move or cancel the call, or provide updates via email or messenger instead.”

Women most impacted

Over a third of women (34%) have stated that their mental health has declined since enforced remote working came into effect, compared to less than a quarter of men (24%).

Lack of interaction with the team (73% of women vs 62% of men), and pressure to deliver results (24% of women vs 14% of men) were the biggest differences when considering what impacts female professionals.

For men, the biggest difference was that 54% of males found distractions at home to have a negative impact on wellbeing – compared to 43% of women.

Those working at home with children in the house (33%) reported a higher decline in mental health, compared to professionals in shared accommodation (30%), those living with a partner but no children (30%), and those living alone (22%).

Sam Walters – father to two children under the age of four outlines his top tips for parents remote working here.

Changes to workplace

When asked about what changes professionals anticipate on their return to the office, a third (32%) expect more focus on wellbeing, 29% expect more autonomy and trust given by management, 18% would like to see a change to work hours, and 12% would like a change to performance measures.

Sam Walters comments: “The extended period of remote working means that employers shouldn’t just expect ways of working to return in the same way as before.

“We have now had the joy of no commute, more time with loved ones, and genuine flexi-hours. Professionals have also had time to reflect on their wellbeing and identify trigger points – such as pressure from management or long hours – and so will be returning to the workplace with a heightened sense of awareness towards these issues.

“As companies develop their ‘back-to-work’ strategies, a revised and updated mental health policy should be a part of this.”