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Mandatory Office Returns Cause Significant Stress and Anxiety for Many UK Employees

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Millions of employees in the UK report that returning to the office environment causes significant stress and anxiety, according to new research. The study, conducted by eLearning experts Skillshub, reveals a growing pushback against employers’ mandatory in-office policies, highlighting the adverse effects on mental health and work-life balance.

The research underscores a significant discontent among workers regarding mandatory office returns. Nearly half of the respondents (42.6%) indicated they would consider quitting their job if their employer mandated a full-time return to office (RTO), with 22.7% stating they would “strongly consider” resigning. Even a hybrid working model, requiring three or more days in the office per week, would lead 18% of employees to contemplate quitting, with 10.1% strongly considering this option. Additionally, 14.6% would consider resigning if any type of mandatory RTO was enforced, with 4.8% strongly considering it.

Sean McPheat, CEO of Skillshub, said: “For millions of employees across the country, working from home (WFH) became the norm in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. However, 2023 was named the ‘Year of the Great Office Return’, with 92% of companies enforcing some sort of mandatory in-office policy. Our research reveals that many employers may be putting themselves at risk of mass resignations if mandatory in-office policies are enforced without proper consideration.”

The study also delved into the perceived impacts of office environments on various aspects of employees’ lives. Interestingly, the results showed an even split between positive and negative impacts.

Positive impacts of office environments

Working in an office environment was found to have several positive effects:

  • Mental health: 31.4% of respondents indicated that office work positively impacts their mental health.
  • Social aspect with colleagues: 22.6% noted improved social interactions.
  • Physical health: 19.5% reported benefits to their physical health.
  • Productivity levels: 12.8% felt more productive.
  • Career progression/work opportunities: 11.3% saw better career advancement opportunities.

These positives reflect how office environments can enhance employee engagement, motivation, and productivity. Factors such as clear communication, adequate training resources, and growth opportunities play crucial roles in fostering these positive outcomes.

Negative impacts of office environments

However, the research also highlighted several negative impacts:

  • Finances: 22.5% of respondents found that additional expenses (e.g., commuting, lunches) strained their finances.
  • Diet: 19.5% experienced a negative effect on their diet.
  • Work-life balance: 17.4% felt that their work/life balance was compromised.
  • Fitness levels: 16.1% reported decreased fitness levels.
  • Home life: 11.7% indicated that their home life, including relationships with partners and family, suffered.

The data also showed that office environments contribute to stress and anxiety for many employees. Specifically, 12.1% of respondents reported increased stress, while 7.6% experienced heightened anxiety. Additionally, 6.1% noted that the office environment did not meet their physical needs, and 5.4% cited neurodiversity needs as a concern.

The findings suggest that while office work can offer social and professional benefits, it also imposes significant personal and financial burdens. These mixed impacts highlight the need for employers to consider flexible and inclusive work policies.

McPheat further elaborated: “Our research highlights the complexity of mandatory RTO policies. While some employees benefit from the structure and social interaction of office work, many others face substantial challenges. Employers must balance these factors to ensure they retain talent and foster a supportive work environment.”

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