A woman works from home with her cat

Warning over worker welfare as they don’t return to the office

Last week saw the first working day of 2022 for many employees, but due to ongoing working-from-home restrictions the majority did not attend their usual workplaces. According to IWFM latest research, more than half of office workers had expected to be back in the office last week. 

The poll of over a thousand workers highlights that the appeal of exclusively working from home has worn thin for many, and that the majority (73%) who took a break over Christmas were content or excited to return to the office last week. Just over a quarter (27%) were not looking forward to their first day back. Men were most likely to be looking forward to the return. Overall, just 16% of office workers expected to stick with majority homeworking after restrictions were lifted, in contrast to last year when eight in ten information and communication professionals worked from home.

IWFM is warning employers that they owe a legal duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare of all their teams working at home. One in five (20%) reported that their health had suffered in 2021 as a result of working from home. One in three (33%) complained that their employers had failed to equip them to work effectively from home. One in six (15%) saw productivity decline in 2021.

Linda Hausmanis, IWFM Chief Executive, commented: 

“The first working day of 2022 is a missed opportunity for millions of office workers and for UK business - three-quarters of us will be excluded from our first choice of workplace this week. Of course, it is right that public safety comes first, but the costs to the economy and people’s health from poorly planned workspaces must not be forgotten. Hybrid working should offer the best of two worlds but for far too many of us it offers the worst of both. Younger home workers are especially at risk from isolation and a lack of safe working spaces. If hybrid is the future as most predict, employers must step up, review their workplace strategies in relation to the learnings of the last two years or risk losing their workforce to resignations and illness.”

The appeal of the office remains strong amongst those surveyed, with office workers' top three desires after the Christmas break seeing colleagues (24%), getting back to a routine (22%) and escaping family (10%). Working from home does offer benefits, with 28% saying they hate the early start of office working and 15% dreading the commuting experience.

The majority of office workers expect to be back in the office full-time (60%) post-pandemic, with a further quarter (23%) expecting to be in at least three days a week. The return to the office brings risks for employers, with three in ten (31%) considering leaving their employer if they fail to invest in making the workplace better suited to employee needs. Overall, half (51%) reported their employers had made no changes to their office over the last year, with only a minority (25%) having seen improvements in their office environment.

Read the full research results here.