In a recent survey of 4,000 office-based employees and 1,000 employers in the UK, US, Singapore, and the UAE, a third of employees expressed concern for their mental health while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research, conducted by international health benefits provider, Aetna International, examines the perceptions of both employers and employees when it comes to corporate health and well-being.
With many employees across the globe working from home for the foreseeable future, the study reveals which health concerns workers are struggling with the most, as well as the many different pressures affecting their performance. As employees look to overcome the hurdles associated with remote working and the pandemic, the results of the survey highlight the crucial areas where employers need to improve their practices in order to help workers face these new challenges.
The top health concerns for remote workers
Many employees believe that remote working is having serious effects on their health and well-being:
- 43% of employees are worried about gaining weight while working from home, the top health concern across the globe.
- 33% are concerned about mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
- 32% are worried about the level of stress experienced while working from home.
Employers also expressed concern for employee well-being with 40% agreeing that they are worried the lack of social interaction with colleagues will have a long-term negative impact on some of their employees’ mental health.
The increasing importance of physical and mental health
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, the majority of employees are placing a greater emphasis on their health and well-being:
- 84% agree that their mental health is more important now than it was a year ago.
- 89% of employees agree that their physical health is more important now than it was a year ago.
Interestingly, employees in the UK have the most conservative views about the value of employer-provided benefits to support workers’ mental and physical health:
- Just 55% of employees in the UK agree that corporate mental health care provision is more important now than it was a year ago compared to 75% of employees in the US.
- 49% of employees in the UK agree that corporate physical health care provision is now more important compared to 69% of employees in the US and Singapore.
How remote working is affecting employee performance
When asked about the different ways everyday life and work-related pressures have impacted their performance at work since the outbreak of COVID-19, employees revealed that factors associated with the pandemic have had an increasingly negative effect:
- 71% of respondents said worrying about being furloughed, pay cuts or losing their job has negatively affected their performance.
- 70% said that stress from being locked down alone has had a negative impact on their work.
- 47% said stress from the challenge of juggling work and homeschooling children has also negatively impacted their performance.
Younger employees admitted that their work is suffering on an even larger scale while working from home during the pandemic:
- 88% of 18–24 year-olds have had their work negatively affected by mental health issues compared to the 74% global average.
- 76% of 18–24 year-olds and 75% of 25–34 year-olds say stress from a blurred work/life balance has also negatively impacted their work compared to the 67% global average.
Small vs big businesses
Employees working for small businesses (those with under 200 employees) are experiencing increased stress while working from home compared to those employees working for the biggest businesses (those with over 5,000 employees):
- 73% of employees at small businesses have had their work negatively impacted by stress as a result of working long hours during the pandemic compared to 61% of employees at big businesses.
- 65% of those working for small businesses say their work has been negatively affected after being expected to do more with less because of budget cuts compared to 51% of employees at big businesses.
Returning to the office
With pressures such as homeschooling children, social isolation, and increased working hours having significant effects on employee stress levels, it is no surprise that the majority of workers expressed an eagerness to return to normality:
- 61% of employees would like to return to the office full time within the next six months.
- 81% agreed that they would return to the office if they could still work remotely for part of the week.
Despite this, concerns about catching COVID-19 jump from 16% to 48% when working in the office as opposed to working from home.
Dr Hemal Desai, Global Medical Director, Aetna International, said:
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives, particularly employment conditions and our day-to-day working practices. With many employees suffering from some form of mental and physical health issues while working from home, our findings serve as a reminder to employers that there is much to be done when it comes to protecting their workers’ well-being.
‘As restrictions continue across the globe, pressures facing employees will have a cumulative effect and continue to escalate. Forward-thinking organisations are seizing this opportunity to better understand the differing needs across their workforce and provide relevant health care services alongside tailored health and well-being benefits to support their employees, both now and in the long term.
‘To help our own employees adapt professionally and personally to working from home, we have launched virtual events such as “Let’s get talking” and “Women inspiring success and excellence” which included talks from motivational speakers, behavioural, and mental health experts. Our employees report that these initiatives have helped build connectivity, peer-support, resilience, confidence, and a culture of openness and well-being. We have also supported our employees and our customers, with a range of well-being services that meet their personal circumstances, driving better health outcomes, happiness and productivity.’
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