Healthy hybrid working: managing wellbeing post-lockdown
As businesses start to adjust to another shift in working patterns, Vitality, in partnership with the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, have taken stock of the health impacts of lockdown, reviewed what lessons can be learnt and looked at ways to help businesses reset their approach to health and wellbeing to create a new ‘healthy hybrid’ working environment.
The ‘long lockdown’ challenge: declining mental health
While Britain’s homeworkers may have been shielded from some of the more immediate and obvious impacts of the virus, the report reveals that the toll upon their mental health has been high. As a result of this decline in mental health, 85% of homeworkers say taking employee health and wellbeing seriously will be important when thinking about their future career prospects. However, 50% of all homeworkers and 58% of female homeworkers feel anxious about the return.
An ergonomic timebomb
Lockdowns and homeworking have worsened long-standing physical health issues and reinforced sedentary lifestyles leading to increased back and shoulder injuries and pain. This, coupled with a reduction in physical activity of 28% in some parts of the country and a worrying increase in obesity (67% of men and 60% of women are overweight or obese), is particularly concerning.
A shift in expectations
Only 16% of workers would prefer to be in a physical work location full time, while almost one in three anticipate this will be their employer’s expectation. However, the hybrid work people want is not just a simple shift in workplace location, but a shift in possibilities towards a new ‘healthy hybrid’. More than eight in ten would prefer to work at home for either part of the week or in full. The same number again say they are looking for a better work life balance (80%) and seven in ten want work to allow for a fit and healthy lifestyle.
A tailored hybrid for women and young people
Women and young people are among groups that have suffered disproportionately – hybrid working must be tailored to the diverse needs of different groups: four in ten mothers working from home report losing productivity (42.8%) versus a third of fathers (33.8%). A third of women report worse concentration than usual (31.3%) compared to one in five men (22.3%). Young people have also been adversely affected, with research by the Mental Health Foundation showing that 56% of people said they were more stressed and anxious about work than before the pandemic, but this rose to 72% and 64% for the 18-24 and 24-35 age groups, respectively.
The 'cost' of productivity
Productivity has improved but at a significant cost – employers need to plan for a ‘healthy hybrid’ that monitors outcomes not hours and guards against burnout: 55% of homeworkers said working from home meant they had found it easier to get more work done, however, on average homeworkers have been working three hours extra per week. Vitality data shows that 40% of people are replacing the time that is gained from their commute (one hour on average) with extra time working.
Top ten recommendations: what can businesses do to create a healthy hybrid?
- Close the expectation gap with new mandates on health and wellbeing that are integrated into company risk registers and prioritised at board level.
- Senior leaders must practise, reinforce, and normalise healthy hybrid behaviours.
- Create ‘healthy hybrid’ feedback loops between employees and leaders.
- Promote inclusive productivity gains by assessing performance based on outcomes not hours.
- Mandatory breaks and a ‘right to disconnect’ policies are needed to protect hybrid workers from burnout and level up inequalities.
- New health and wellbeing policies must be inclusive across all work environments and focus on workers not workplaces.
- Organisations should schedule 30 minutes a day for all employees to protect musculoskeletal health.
- Effective and consistent wellbeing measurement is needed to sustain ‘healthy hybrid’ behaviours and culture.
- Organisational structures must make it clear who is accountable for new health and wellbeing mandates, and this must be reflected in management training.
- Organisations should track and publish data on hybrid workers’ pay and progression to prevent digital disadvantage.
Download the full report here.