Employee happiness dropped dramatically during lockdown, report finds

Survey also reveals sharp rise in e-presenteeism, with experts urging managers to limit workloads and regularly check in with staff

Employee happiness has dropped dramatically and presenteeism has increased during the pandemic, a survey of workers has found, as experts urge business to address a growing ‘always on’ culture caused by home working.

The report by Aviva, Embracing the Age of Ambiguity, which polled 2,000 people in February and August this year, found more employees were happier before the pandemic. In February, one fifth (20 per cent) said they felt complete happiness, compared to just 13 per cent in August.

It also found a significant trend of presenteeism and an ‘always on’ culture among employees. Almost half (44 per cent) felt they never fully switched off from work. The problem was worse among 18 to 24-year-olds, 63 per cent of whom said they regularly checked their emails outside working hours, up from 48 per cent in February.

The percentage of employees who had taken no sick days also increased. In February, two-thirds (67 per cent) of those polled had had no sickness absence over the previous three months, but by August this had jumped 17 percentage points to 84 per cent. Additionally, more than a third (34 per cent) admitted continuing to work despite feeling unwell.

Rachel Suff, senior employee relations adviser at the CIPD, said home working could lead to work intensification, and urged managers to take action to prevent this. “Managers play a crucial role in helping to counter the ‘always on’ mindset by making sure their teams have a structure to their day that draws a clear line between work and downtime,” said Suff.

“It's also essential for managers to make sure workloads are manageable and that they have regular one-to-ones to check up on people's wellbeing.” 

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The poll found more than half of employees felt they were neglecting their physical and mental health because of the pressures of work (58 and 55 per cent respectively). Similarly, 43 per cent said they were troubled by how much their work interfered with their personal life.

Kathryn Dombrowicz, therapy consultant at The Soke, said it was important to set clear boundaries around working hours, particularly in the current crisis. “Psychologically, employees might feel a need to prove their productivity while home working, perhaps feeling their jobs are at risk,” said Dombrowicz, adding that a lack of a “clear geographical boundary” between work and home can contribute to staff finding they never fully detach.

Dombrowicz said employers should be aware of unusual employee activity, such as increased emails outside of working hours and lunch breaks, and should set boundaries. 

“Managers need to set realistic and clear expectations for their staff, to help them understand what exactly is required of them,” she said. “Additionally, managers could implement regular slots with their teams to touch base about how they are coping at home and identify how they can best support each other.”