Work is becoming worse for employee wellbeing, finds CIPD

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The proportion of people who feel that work has a positive impact on their mental health has fallen over the past two years, with up to one in four workers reporting intense and stressful working conditions, such as feeling exhausted, miserable or stressed.

This is according to the CIPD, which suggested that employers have not done enough to tackle to the issue despite the prominence given to the mental health over the past few years.

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,” – Jonny Gifford, CIPD

The survey of 6,681 workers conducted in January 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK, found just 35% felt work had a positive impact on their mental wellbeing, down from 44% in 2018.

A third felt their normal weekly workload was too high and 24% struggled to relax in their free time because of work worries. Twenty-two per cent felt exhausted “always or often” while at work.

Work was also exacerbating employees’ existing mental health conditions, with 69% who had experienced anxiety in the past year stating that work was a contributing factor. Fifty-eight per cent said the same of depression.

Jonny Gifford, senior research adviser at the CIPD, said: “Even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, work was becoming worse for our health. This is the complete opposite of how it should be – work can and should have a positive impact on people’s lives.

“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.

A subsequent survey of 1,001 conducted in April/May showed that the pandemic was “heightening” employees’ issues, the CIPD said. More than four in 10 (43%) of those with a mental health condition say the pandemic has contributed to or worsened their condition.

The findings were revealed as the CIPD published its 2020 Good Work Index, which assesses the state of the UK work environment based on seven indicators of job quality: pay and benefits, contracts, work-life balance, job design, relationships at work, employee voice and health and wellbeing.

It says: “The coming months and beyond will be difficult to navigate…Full employment is an important objective, but it is not enough – healthy economies and healthy societies also rest on jobs that provide both financial stability and a decent quality of working life. HR and other people professionals have a vital role in this, as experts in employment and people management.”

Assessment of job quality

In assessing the ‘pay and benefits’ measure of job quality, the CIPD finds a third of staff felt they were not paid appropriately for the job they do, although workers have become more satisfied with pay over the past few years.

When work-life balance is looked at, a quarter say work interferes with their personal commitments, but 63% feel it is easy to “take an hour or two” off work for personal matters.

In terms of job design, 73% feel their work is meaningful for their organisation, but 11% lack the skills they need for their job and 37% have underused skills.

The report notes that some jobs “may be improved relatively easily through progressive people management and employment practices”, although it recognises that “others may be harder to improve”.

Gifford said: “While the government is right to focus on protecting as many jobs as possible, it should also be encouraging employers to look at job quality. Not only is there a moral imperative to do so, but 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. In the long run, this will help us get on the road to economic recovery sooner.”

To reduce pressure on employees and help address wellbeing concerns, the CIPD advised that employers:

  • Ask about workloads and ensure employees are not under excessive pressure
  • Ensure managers are trained in having supportive, sensitive discussions on wellbeing and communicate with reports regularly
  • Promote health and wellbeing benefits, such as counselling helplines
  • Give staff more autonomy or control over how, when and where they work.

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