Worry of forced return to office drives up anxiety

There has been an increase in anxiety amongst UK workers, due to the worry that they will be forced to return to the office.

Mitrefinch, a global workforce management solution found there was a 4,000 per cent increase in Google searches for the question “do I have to go back to the office” between March and June. With “back to work anxiety” Google searches increasing by 567 per cent.

Analysing Google search data found that workers were also worried regarding what safety measures had been implemented before returning to the office.

The questions asked with the biggest increase in Google searches were:

  • ‘Do I have to go back to work?’ – 4,000 per cent increase
  • ‘Back to work anxiety’ – 567 per cent increase
  • ‘Fear of returning to work – 200 per cent increase
  • ‘Safe workplace’ – 122 per cent increase
  • ‘Employee health and safety’ – 100 per cent increase
  • ‘Health and safety practices in the workplace’ – 100 per cent increase
  • ‘Safety at work’ – 82 per cent increase
  • ‘Workplace health and safety’ – 79 per cent increase

Matthew Jenkins, CEO at Mitrefinch, said:

With the Government updating its guidance regarding returning to work in August allowing employers more discretion to make decisions about how their staff work safely, it’s crucial that businesses recognise that for some staff making the return to a physical workplace might not be conducive to their wellbeing, and in turn, performance.

While it’s great that businesses are now able to welcome staff back to the hustle and bustle of the workplace it’s important to remember that we are still not back to ‘normal’ and for many people this loosening of restrictions from the government could be seen as a significant worry.

Lockdown has seen employees across the country adapt to the challenges of working from home, with many departments and teams outperforming themselves pre-pandemic in terms of productivity and output. However, we know that for some businesses where face-to-face communication and a physical presence is critical that this can’t last forever but this is no excuse for employers to make staff feel uncomfortable about the prospect of returning.

The search data featured in this study showcases that some Brits, while worried, are also solutions-driven and are not afraid to return to the workplace so long as adequate safety provisions are in place and it’s therefore crucial that employers liaise with staff and communicate this effectively.

At the beginning of September, the Government denied that it planned to launch a campaign to get employees back in to the office. Even though, towards the end of August, it was announced that a government campaign will start to encourage employees to go back to their workplaces, which would be mostly promoted through regional media. 

However, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman then rejected reports that such a campaign had been put on hold and in fact stated such a campaign never existed. This led to a senior Conservative backbencher demanding clearer government communication and consistency.