New research highlights the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on professionals’ working lives. The report shows that almost half of workers never feel as though they can fully switch off from work, potentially suggesting heightened anxiety linked to their job.

A new report by Aviva, the insurance company, sheds light on the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on key areas of working life including work-life balance and wellbeing.

In particular, the report points to a rise in ‘always on’ culture which has been exacerbated by the move to remote working.

Within the last year, almost half of employees (44 per cent) surveyed stated that they can never fully switch off from work.

When analysing the individual groups, the demographic which is most likely to feel this way is young workers aged between 18-24. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) state that they regularly check emails outside of work hours which is a 15 per cent rise from pre-pandemic figures.

As a result, key areas such as physical and mental health are being pushed to the wayside as more workers fail to switch off and cultivate a healthy work-life balance.

Over half of adults surveyed (58 per cent) felt that they were neglecting their physical health whilst a similar number (55 per cent) felt that their mental health was being overlooked as a result of excessive working.

Almost half of respondents (43 per cent) confessed that they were unhappy with how much their working life interferes with their personal life.

The level of satisfaction has also decreased since the start of pandemic. Whilst a fifth of employees (20 per cent) stated that they were “completely happy” in February, this figure had dropped to just 13 per cent by August. The research states that this figure poses a problem due to the well-established link between productivity and wellbeing.

Additionally, the report suggests that employees are working longer hours and taking fewer sick days – demonstrating a rise in presenteeism.

Over the last year, the number of employees who have taken no time off sick has risen by almost a fifth (17 per cent). Furthermore, over a third of workers (34 per cent) confessed to continuing to work even when they did not feel well.

In order to battle this lack of work-life balance, Aviva outlined some tips to help employers and employees alike:

  • Set a time to finish the work day
  • Find an activity to signal the switch from work to home
  • Be clear about your working hours
  • Leaders should model good behaviours so their employees follow suit
  • Ditching technology in order to reduce time spent in front of a screen

Debbie Bullock, Wellbeing Lead at Aviva, comments:

The working environment can be a key driver of mental health conditions amongst the working population, so it’s no surprise that the blurring of lines between home and work has contributed towards the increasing numbers reporting mental health issues.

Our research suggests the pandemic may have exacerbated the issue. Without the usual bookends of commutes or school runs to help structure the day, many employees find it hard to switch off. Plus, juggling work and home life in the same location has been stressful for many, with employees feeling they are never entirely at work, but never fully away from it either.

Christmas is usually a time of year when employees can switch off, but without offices to step away from, many will struggle to detach from work. Happier employees are not only extremely important for the survival and performance of organisations, but they are also a magnet for the best talent out there. Employers should take note and listen to employee concerns and better support workplace wellbeing.

*This Aviva report ‘Embracing the Age of Ambiguity’ was published in November 2020. It compiled research of over 2,000 employees working in companies that have over 1,000 people. It was conducted on behalf of Aviva by Quadrangle and took place in February 2020 and was repeated in August 2020.