2022 and beyond
As the impact of the pandemic fades, new factors will impact adversely on mental health, particularly the cost of living crisis.
Wellbeing became a key focus for employers during the pandemic. Alongside the anxiety caused by the pandemic itself, Covid restrictions increased feelings of loneliness. Dramatic rises in energy and consumer prices from the cost of living crisis are resulting in further anxiety and are likely to lead to more people being unable to cope. Many employers will look to support their affected workers. For example, some employers are granting one-off cost of living bonuses to staff and others are providing support and counselling for those with financial worries .
The pandemic has resulted in a greater recognition of the need to ensure employees take care of their wellbeing. For example: taking sick leave when not well; having rest breaks; and switching off from work. Employers also increasingly offer: wellness subsidies for yoga classes, gym membership and other wellness activities; healthy eating options at work; and other schemes to improve employee wellbeing. However, this move is not universally popular and there remain those opposed to the “nanny employer” replacing the “nanny state”.
Despite increased focus on wellbeing, the Gallup 2022 State of the Global Workplace report highlights that employee wellbeing is stagnant globally, and worker stress is at an all-time high.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimates that the sickness absence rate in the UK in 2021 was 2.2% (an estimated 149.3 million working days). Unsurprisingly, this was the highest since 2010, with one in four absences attributable to Covid. Data also shows how record levels of long-term sickness are contributing to increasing numbers of economically inactive people of working age, which adds to skills shortages.
UK mandatory (statutory) sick pay is among the lowest in Europe. As a result, many employers offer enhanced levels of sick pay as well as, on occasion, ill-health insurance benefits, occupational health and counselling support. The NHS remains under acute pressure with well-documented difficulties for some merely in seeing their GP and long waiting times for consultations, investigations or treatment. Many people, whatever their views on the ethics of private medicine in the UK, are turning to the private sector for healthcare. These types of benefits are valuable to employees and may become more important in the years ahead in order to support wellbeing and to attract and retain workers.
There is a strong correlation between workforce wellbeing and business performance, with high levels of wellbeing linked to effective worker engagement. Wellbeing is sufficiently important for high-performing organisations that employers are now looking to report on wellbeing alongside other performance metrics and invest in new C-suite positions, such as a “Chief Happiness Officer” who is entrusted with enhancing workforce morale.
Wellbeing is also a key consideration for employees in deciding where to work. A work-life balance is valued for the flexibility it gives but also for its wellbeing benefits. The May 2022 ONS report on hybrid working showed that 47% reported improved wellbeing from this change of working pattern.
Deloitte’s 2022 annual survey of Gen Z and Millennials reported that, for both Gen Z and millennials, a good work-life balance was the most important factor in choosing where to work. For these generations, the most commonly cited reason (alongside pay) for leaving a job were health concerns from the feeling that their workplace was detrimental to their mental health.