Return to work and redundancy worries affect more than half of workers, survey finds

Research also reveals resentment among staff with furloughed colleagues, while those on the job retention scheme express concern about their future job security

More than half of UK employees’ wellbeing has been negatively affected over the past month, according to a survey, as many employers start cutting jobs and asking staff to return to workplaces. 

The report by Perkbox found that 58 per cent of employees said changes to the furlough scheme and future uncertainty over the world of work had negatively impacted their mental health, leaving them with rising levels of stress and anxiety. 

Almost half (46 per cent) said they felt disconnected from their team and business over the past month, while 38 per cent said their physical wellbeing had been affected by the continued pandemic. 

Only 15 per cent of the 6,273 UK employees surveyed had experienced no negative impacts on their wellbeing in the past month. 

The report said the data should be cause for concern for employers, who need to be aware of the furlough scheme’s impact on all staff, including those still working. It highlighted that workers who had not been furloughed were “having to take on extra work in their colleagues’ absence”. 

A fifth (19 per cent) of employees who were not furloughed but had colleagues who were, said they’d had to work harder. The same proportion (19 per cent) said they experienced more stress as a result of taking on extra responsibilities, resulting in one in 10 (11 per cent) feeling resentful.

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“This has the potential to lead to increased incidents of burnout, which can have lasting effects on employees and on a large scale, take time for companies to recover from,” the report stated. “Cases of resentment felt by non-furloughed employees also show that HR teams may have to work harder to keep those who have continued to work throughout the pandemic engaged and happy throughout the rest of the year.”

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, told People Management the crisis had presented a "massive” employment relations and health and wellbeing challenge, as the pandemic "amplified everything". She said employers needed to utilise key people management skills to address staff anxiety about the future.

"HR, employers and managers have got to be proactive," Suff said. "It's about regular, honest communication to allay workers’ concerns, because a lot of people are worried about their job, which could hold them back from behaving in a way that's good for their health and wellbeing."

Suff said employee concerns about job security and the future of their company could lead to increased levels of ‘e-presenteeism’ – where employees feel they should always be available online for work. 

"We know that presenteeism rises when people are worried about job security," Suff explained. "Now, presenteeism isn't just physically returning to work. It's also about if you're not feeling well, and we know people have a lot of anxiety, depression and mental health issues during this pandemic."

Of those surveyed in the report, 28 per cent – approximately 1,756 workers – had been placed on furlough during 2020. 

More than a third (36 per cent) of those furloughed said it had impacted their emotional wellbeing, and 29 per cent felt guilty about not working. A fifth (21 per cent) felt guilty for the “extra work” that colleagues had to take on in their absence. 

Despite government assurances that the job retention scheme would help preserve roles, three in five (61 per cent) furloughed employees were concerned about their future job security as the scheme tapered off. A further 42 per cent were concerned about the future of their company because of their employer’s participation in the scheme. 

These concerns came amid ongoing redundancy announcements from a range of firms. Yesterday (6 August), Travelex announced that 1,300 staff, largely those who previously worked at now closed airport and high street outlets, would be made redundant, while WHSmith also announced job cuts, following similar announcements this week from Dixons Carphone, PizzaExpress, LGH and Hays Travel.

Suff said employers needed to invest more into training line managers to handle rising levels of anxiety. "More responsibility has been put on line managers… [with] expectations they will be able to support people's health and wellbeing and manage staff, but this isn't matched by an investment in training managers," she said.