Employees fearful about return to work, survey finds

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A survey has found that almost half of the UK’s workforce is not ready to return to work, with many being anxious or deeply concerned.

Detailed in a new report by workplace wellbeing specialists, BHSF, 45% described their feelings about the return to work negatively. Deepening the crisis, only 5% of employers have put in extra employee support services for those returning to a more normal work pattern.

Challenges facing businesses are compounded by the fact that not all staff are comfortable raising health concerns with their line managers. Almost one-third (30%) confirmed they would not feel comfortable discussing any mental health, physical health, grief or financial concerns with their line manager.

When looking at concerns where workers are comfortable disclosing with their line managers, the reading is equally alarming. Only 41% said they would discuss mental health concerns with their manager, while even fewer would discuss physical health issues (36%), financial concerns (28%) and grief experiences (22%). The results, according to BHSF, could see a widening gulf between staff and management, with people withholding negative experiences which could impact work productivity.

Shelley Rowley, Chief Transformation Officer at BHSF, said: “The working world has changed considerably over the last 18 months, and while flexible working policies and home offices are becoming more normalised, the mental health crisis appears to be growing. It goes without saying that each individual is different and employers have a difficult task in creating an inclusive environment for all staff to feel confident to openly discuss their struggles.

“However, it is a legal requirement for employers to look after the health and safety of their staff, and this includes mental health. The results show that not all staff are confident in opening up to their line managers, which begs the question, who are they turning to? It is difficult for employers, as home-working makes it more difficult to spot the signs. Creating an inclusive environment, where multiple avenues of support are made available, is the most effective way to support staff.”

Tracey Paxton, Managing Director at The Employee Resilience Company and contributor to the report, adds: “Whilst COVID restrictions may be easing a lot of companies are sat on a ‘time bomb’. There are many employees within workforces who have carried all that stress and anxiety without reaching out for help. Some people store up stress, and it will come to a point where they will not be able to function. They are in ‘survival mode”.

The survey of 2,000 of the UK’s workforce also found that half (50.5%) of employers have not provided any health and wellbeing support during the pandemic. Of those employees that have received support, only half have access to mental health first aiders, while 62% receive 24/7 anonymous professional support, such as a GP helpline or counselling service.

Detailed in BHSF’s report, The Big Return offers guidance and advice from qualified industry experts on how to overcome the challenges and possible next steps for businesses. With special commentary from Dr Rohit S. Prajapati, Chief Medical Officer at BHSF, and Tracey Paxton, the report also offers advice on how to build a resilient workforce and better support all staff.

Dr Prajapati comments: “The COVID-19 pandemic needs to be a wake-up call for workplace wellbeing; stark is the reality that 40% of workplace absence is due to mental health issues and this is projected to be in the region of 70% by 2023. If we can educate employers about the breadth of support available and about the value, not just the cost, of this provision, then we can better manage the impact.”

Shelley Rowley concludes: “It is clear from our survey that more needs to be done to support staff. We hope our report can offer some guidance on practical steps businesses can take, without adding pressure on line managers and leadership teams who may also be struggling.”

To download a copy of the report, please visit www.bhsf.co.uk/thebigreturn.