Work is detrimental to employee wellbeing, CIPD survey finds

4 Jun 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

Experts call on government and employers to focus on job quality, amid warnings the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the problem

The number of people seeing benefits to their mental health from work was already in decline before the coronavirus outbreak struck, a survey has found, raising concerns about the further impact the virus is having on staff wellbeing.

In its latest Good Work Index report, the CIPD found the number of people reporting that work had positively affected their mental health dropped 9 percentage points over the last two years, from 44 per cent to 35 per cent.

The report raised other ‘red flags’ about the impact of work on mental health, with 22 per cent of respondents reporting they felt exhausted, 21 per cent admitting being under excessive pressure and 11 per cent saying they were often miserable at work.

Jonny Gifford, senior research adviser at the CIPD, said even before the pandemic, work was becoming worse for our health: “As the full scale of the economic crisis unfolds, the outlook looks even bleaker.

“We’ll likely see employers trying to do more with less, which will only increase people’s workload and the pressure they are already under. Many people will also be worried about losing their job or living on a reduced income.” 

The report, for which the CIPD and YouGov polled 6,681 workers in January 2020, found a third of people (32 per cent) said their workload was too much in a normal week, while a quarter (24 per cent) said they found it hard to relax during their personal time because of work.

Of those who’ve experienced anxiety in the last year, 69 per cent said their job was a contributing factor, and 58 per cent said the same was true for depression. 

A separate Covid-19 snapshot survey also conducted by the CIPD and YouGov found the crisis had heightened all of these issues. In the poll of 1,001 workers, conducted at the end of April 2020, 43 per cent of those with a mental health condition said the pandemic had contributed to or worsened their condition. 

Kelly Feehan, service director at wellbeing charity CABA, said employers should take a proactive approach in supporting staff wellbeing and meeting their duty of care. “If you haven’t done so already, you should look to produce a mental health at work plan or strategy, which you implement and communicate at all levels of the business,” said Feehan, adding that cultivating an open and honest workplace environment was vital. 

“Check in with your staff at regular intervals as personal circumstances can quickly change. This will allow you to identify any issues at an early stage and make any adjustments where necessary.”

The latter of the reports also revealed job security was a contributing factor to low mood: more than a fifth (22 per cent) of workers said it was likely they would lose their job in the next 12 months. 

Gifford said it was a “moral imperative” for the government to focus on job quality alongside protecting as many jobs as possible. “If people are happy and healthy in their jobs they also perform better, take less time off and are less likely to drop out of the workforce,” he said.

Feehan added: “Companies and employers that actively promote mental health in the workplace are far more likely to have a happier and more productive workforce. Employees will feel more supported to do their job, and are therefore less likely to take sick days or look elsewhere for another role.”

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