How Covid has created a divided workforce

Within a single business, the impact of the pandemic on individual employees’ wellbeing can differ significantly depending on age, job role and personal circumstances, says Heidi Allan

With some employees reporting improved work-life balance and increased savings while others face significant mental, physical and financial hardship, Covid’s impact on the UK workforce is far from consistent. Even within just one company, the impact on employee wellbeing can depend on age, job role and personal circumstances.

Using findings from LCP’s survey of 10,000 employees carried out in Autumn 2020, I have analysed how Covid has impacted on different demographics, and outlined what employers should be considering to better manage wellbeing within their organisations and respond to changing employee concerns:

Balancing physical health with the health of others  

Perhaps the most immediate impact that Covid has had on employee wellbeing is on their physical health. Our survey shows that 18 per cent of office workers were diagnosed with coronavirus, with 20 per cent reporting a health problem or concern outside of Covid.

Even on this measure, impact has varied widely across age groups. Young people were most keenly affected, with 31 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds reporting a positive diagnosis and 35 per cent reporting a physical health problem or concern. Despite this, more than half of those asked reported that their workplace was not supportive of their physical health. 

When it comes to physical health, we also witnessed a shift in health priorities over the past year, with the health of loved ones becoming the biggest concern for employees, leapfrogging their own health. As such, when we think about employee benefits, consideration also needs to be given to partners and dependents. 

Mounting mental health concerns 

Alongside physical health, the impact on mental health has been well reported, particularly in younger cohorts. We found 60 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 had a mental health problem or concern, compared with just over 20 per cent of those aged between 55 and 64.

There was also an increase in the proportion of employees feeling anxious across all age groups, compared to last year. This was much more significant in older age groups, which is likely to reflect the higher impact of Covid on this group. We also see a higher proportion of female employees suffering from anxiety than their male colleagues – which is a continuation of what we saw last year. 

The changing landscape of financial behaviour

When it comes to financial wellbeing, Covid has created a stark divide between those who have coped well and have had their finances positively impacted, and those who have found themselves in severe difficulty. On average, one in four employees (25 per cent) reported feeling concerned and negative about their finances, and that they have been unable to cope in the last couple of days before pay day. 

Once again, the youngest cohorts have been the most affected in terms of financial wellbeing, with three in five of those aged 16 to 24 stating that their personal income has been negatively impacted during the pandemic. However, conversely, significant numbers of young people have also become ‘accidental savers’ through reduced expenditure on holidays, socialising and eating out. Overall, 24 per cent of those surveyed said they were saving more.

Additional analysis by our team has shown that more than six million employees have found it easier to save during the pandemic. Based on Bank of England estimates of increased savings, just over the period March-November 2020, these six million employees are likely to have improved their net wealth by thousands of pounds, through a combination of reduced spending, reduced indebtedness and increased savings. 

Taking a holistic approach to employee wellbeing 

Our findings highlight the enormous toll that the pandemic has taken on mental, physical and financial wellbeing. While businesses have a lot on their agenda as they try to stay resilient in the face of financial pressures, they equally have a responsibility to support employees to build their resilience. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also has a direct impact on the bottom line.  

Understanding and listening to the concerns of employees and what help they need is the first step businesses should take to develop an effective programme around financial education and wellbeing. As employees struggle not just with their own physical health, but also that of those closest to them, these programmes should place greater emphasis on benefit strategies that give employees the option to include additional cover for those they support and provide for.

In addition, employers have a key role to play in building knowledge and awareness among staff of how to save more, including promoting workplace savings schemes, while at the same time rewarding those who are putting additional savings into pensions through incentive schemes.  

Ultimately, making sure staff feel valued, cared for and secure in their jobs will be essential for employee retention once the effects of the pandemic begin to ease.

Heidi Allan is senior financial wellbeing consultant at LCP