New research highlights the key trends in wellbeing and employer-employee relationships and how this changed before and after the pandemic affected everyday working life.  

A new report from Aviva, the insurance company, outlines key attitudes which have changed after the onset of COVID-19 and the shift to remote working.

Most startlingly, the results indicate a significant disconnect between employers and their employees along with the rise of presenteeism and a decline in wellbeing.

Mental health has worsened over the course of the pandemic. In February 2020, only 38 per cent of respondents stated that their mental health was “bad” or “fair”. However, by August 2020, this number had risen to 43 per cent – almost half of the UK workforce.

Furthermore, almost half of respondents (47 per cent) believed that the things that they do in their life are worthwhile in February. However, by August, this number dropped to just over a third (35 per cent), indicating a lack of contentment and disillusionment amongst employees.

Young people aged between 18-25 were most impacted by mental health issues. Over half (53 per cent) stated that they felt anxiety over this period which was up from the national average of 34 per cent.

However, despite this, there is a critical disconnect between employers and their employees. Only just over a quarter of respondents (26 per cent) stated that they believed their employer genuinely cares about their wellbeing.

This inclination to hide wellbeing issues has also worsened over the period recorded. In February 2020, around two-thirds (67 per cent) took no sick days over a three-month period. However, by August 2020, this number had risen to over eight in 10 employees taking no time off in a quarter (84 per cent), perhaps indicating a fear of redundancy and a rise in presenteeism.

Data further shows that employer-employee relationships has worsened in other areas, leading to ’employee drift’.

Although over half of employees (54 per cent) reported that their employer was working hard to create a sense of “company togetherness”, this communication is not translating. Only 15 per cent of employees stated that their employer is trying really hard to understand what motivates them. Additionally, despite this desire to create community, less than half of employees (42 per cent) state that their employer’s goals and values are clear.

In order to combat the worsening mental health and lack of efficient communication between employers and employees in certain areas, the report outlines some key recommendations. It states companies must deliver on emerging flexible needs, personalise mental health and wellbeing support and create a sense of purpose, clarity and autonomy in the workplace.

Paul Wilson, CMO, Aviva UK Life, Savings & Retirement, commented:

We are living in an ‘Age of Ambiguity’. The balance between work and home life; employment and retirement; and the relationship between employers and employees are becoming increasingly fluid. While some welcome flexibility, for many others it creates unease and uncertainty.

We are encouraging employers to embrace the ‘Age of Ambiguity’ in supporting their workforce with their mental health, physical and financial wellbeing.

After all, people are the number one asset of any business and, by providing them with targeted support, their contribution will be more valuable than ever before.

*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.

Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.