Contrasting studies suggest jury is out on impact of remote working on employee wellbeing
New research from Cigna Europe has indicated that working from home during lockdown has increased overall job satisfaction, improved work relationships and is reducing work-related stress among UK workers.
However, a survey of 2000 UK consumers by digital health firm BioBeats found that nearly a quarter (21%) of UK employees say their mental health will be negatively impacted by an extension of remote working post-lockdown. This is compared to 23% who said they wish to continue working from home.
Google, Facebook and Twitter recently announced they will let employees work remotely until the end of the year.
"As companies such as Twitter announce that remote working policies will remain in place through the end of the year or even longer, the transition to a more permanent new way of working will have an impact on employee wellbeing that HR departments must be prepared to proactively address," stated David Plans, founder & CEO of BioBeats.
"While the flexibility provided by extended remote working can ultimately be a good thing for employees, people admit that they'll be impacted by extended work-from-home measures and very few say they will ask for help with said measures. This means that employers will need to act proactively to ensure that employee mental wellness is a priority."
According to the BioBeats research, only 5% of respondents stated that their mental health will improve as a result of extended remote working but alarmingly only 3% said they would ask for help in coping with this new way of working, which suggests there is a gap between employees' needs and their ability to seek support from their employer.
Because 97% of employees are unlikely to take steps to seek out help from their employer in coping with this change, BioBeats pointed out that employers must be prepared to act proactively.
The Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact Study showed, however, that there has been a drop in Brits' work-related stress, with 68% currently suffering from stress compared to 78% at the start of the year.
It also found that 78% of UK workers said they currently have good job stability (compared to 70% in January) and 74% have a good work-life balance, up from 69% in January. Meanwhile, 90% have maintained good relationships with colleagues (compared to 86% in January) and 82% with supervisors (compared to 74% in January).
Interestingly, half (51%) of people agreed that working from home and using technologies to communicate has streamlined processes (compared to 12% who disagreed), whilst 61% feel they have had opportunities to learn and grow during the pandemic (compared to 53% in January).
"The shift to remote working has been one of the most significant changes brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown", said Arjan Toor, CEO, Cigna Europe. "UK workers reported that working from home has improved their work life, indicating that working routines are likely to change permanently once lockdown ends. Whilst there is no doubt the pandemic has brought significant stress and challenges to us all, it is encouraging to see that people are more satisfied with their work wellbeing during these times."
The Cigna study showed that the demand for virtual health has increased significantly since the lockdown began. In the UK alone, over half (52%) say they are likely to choose virtual health appointments rather than face-to-face ones, 43% would choose virtual health in place of general health support, such as GP appointments, whilst 30% said they would use it for mental health support.
Toor said: "Since January, the number of virtual health appointments attended by our customers across our international markets business has increased six-fold, from 233 in January to 1,438 in April, and we believe this is a permanent shift. We are investing in new, integrated health solutions that help people manage their health, both mind and body, and provide treatment when and where it is needed."
Meanwhile, the BioBeats study indicated that 23% of respondents expect to continue to work and socialise from home even after lockdown restrictions are fully lifted, with 29% expecting to continue to enjoy leisure activities such as baking, cooking and gardening.