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As lockdown starts to lift, more people are having to think about going back to work as normal. That means commutes, offices, cafeterias, and face to face meetings.
We wanted to find out how people are feeling about returning to work after a year of isolating and social distancing, and so we surveyed over 1,000 UK employees. The results were surprising, and gave us some great insight into what businesses can be doing to ease the transition.
Return to Work Anxiety
There has been a significant increase in people experiencing anxiety throughout the pandemic, so we wanted to find out how that is impacting employees returning to work. It seems like it is having quite a drastic effect, as when asked how they feel about returning to work, 60% of respondents said that they are worried about going back to the office before everyone is vaccinated.
Just 40% said that they are not worried about being in an office before the vaccine rollout is complete.
64% of UK workers said that they don’t believe that anyone should go back to an office until everyone is vaccinated.
Some companies have chosen to allow ongoing flexibility around working from home, however others are keen to get everyone back into the office. Going forwards, less than a quarter (23.9%) of respondents said that they would like to go back to the office-full time. The idea of remaining at home full-time had a similar response, with 23% saying that they would like to continue working from home.
A much more popular option was to shift to a combination of working from home and going into an office, which was the number one choice for 53% of workers.
We also wanted to find out exactly what worries the UK has regarding being in an office. When asked what their biggest concerns are, the number one response was that workers won’t be able to properly socially distance themselves (60%).
This was followed by workplace safety (56%), cleanliness (55%), and spreading illness (45%).
Still a concern, but a notable much lower priority for many, was being away from family (16%).
Top Concerns About Returning to the Office
- Social distancing 60%
- Workplace safety 56%
- Workplace cleanliness 55%
- Spreading illness to friends/family 45%
- Being away from family 16%
Other concerns cited included anxiety and mental health, leaving pets at home alone, commuting, lack of flexibility, and workplace bullying and sexual harassment returning.
Some workplaces are working to ensure that their employees feel safe and comfortable when they return. We asked what changes should be implemented in order to ensure this is the case.
When asked what changes UK employees would like to see change going forwards, the top response was flexible hours (59%).
This was followed by a 4 day working week (45%), fewer people in the office (37%), and fewer meetings (33%).
Mental health was also a priority for many, with 32% of respondents wanting an allowance for mental health time off allowance, and 22% wanting mental health support, such as counselling.
Top Changes Requested to Workplaces
- Flexible hours 59%
- 4 day working week 45%
- Fewer people in the office 37%
- Fewer meetings 33%
- Mental Health Days 32%
- Mental health support (e.g. counselling) 22%
- Reduction in business travel 19%
- Childcare support 17%
- Longer lunch breaks 15%
Midlands & The North Feeling Most Anxiety
When the results were broken down by region, the top cities feeling anxious about returning to the office were Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham.
Cardiff, Newcastle and Liverpool workers were most likely to support postponing a return to the office until everybody is vaccinated.
Employees Worried About Returning to the Office
- Manchester 77%
- Glasgow 75%
- Birmingham 72%
- Cardiff 68%
- Newcastle 68%
- Bristol 65%
- Liverpool 63%
- Nottingham 63%
- Sheffield 59%
- Belfast 56%
- London 54%
- Norwich 54%
- Edinburgh 52%
- Leeds 52%
- Southampton 50%
Employees Who Believe We Should be Vaccinated Before Returning to the Office
- Cardiff 84%
- Newcastle 79%
- Liverpool 74%
- Nottingham 72%
- Birmingham 70%
- Bristol 69%
- Norwich 69%
- Glasgow 67%
- Sheffield 64%
- Leeds 62%
- London 61%
- Manchester 55%
- Southampton 55%
- Belfast 52%
- Edinburgh 38%
Businesses should be aware of the real-life impact that this pandemic has had on employees. Many workers are feeling a lot of anxiety about returning to ‘normal’, and it’s imperative that this is taken into account while making plans to get people back into the office.
There was once a time when working from home was a luxury reserved for freelancers, but that is not the case anymore and businesses need to take that on board. Working from home has proven to be a success for many, and despite some challenges, this year has proven that it can be a real option for many workers to have more flexibility around home working.
Where possible, businesses should be asking their employees what they would feel most comfortable doing, as good mental health and a good work/life balance will do a lot more for productivity and workplace morale than simply having everyone back in meeting rooms.