CIPD Good Work Index: ‘Wellbeing worse even before COVID-19’

The negative impact of work on people’s mental health has grown in the past two years, according to the latest assessment of UK workplaces by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

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The CIPD’s Good Work Index tracks seven aspects of job quality, from pay and benefits, contracts, work-life balance, job design, relationships at work and employee voice to health and wellbeing. Back in January, the professional body surveyed more than 6,000 people for the latest annual benchmarking study. Among the significant shifts and insights is that the number reporting that work has a positive impact on their mental health has fallen from 44% to 35%.

COVID-19 and the impact on employees' mental wellbeing

The CIPD believes that this finding not only highlights how employers aren’t doing enough to tackle the issue to date, but also raises concerns about the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on people’s wellbeing given many are worried about catching the virus at work, losing their job or bearing the brunt of employer cutbacks.Jonny Gifford, Senior Research Adviser at the CIPD, said: “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, work was becoming worse for our health. This is the complete opposite of how it should be. Work can and should have a positive impact on people’s lives.  "As the full scale of the economic crisis unfolds, the outlook looks even bleaker. We’ll likely see employers trying to do more with less, which will only increase people’s workload and the pressure they are already under. Many people will also be worried about losing their job or living on a reduced income."

Pandemic worsening mental health outcomes

Before the COVID-19 crisis hit the UK, the Good Work Index identified several red flags about the impact of work on wellbeing. As well as the general downward trend in work-related health, a number of workers said at work they were always or often:  
  • exhausted (22%)  
  • under excessive pressure (21%)  
  • miserable (11%).  
A third of people (32%) also said their workload is too much in a normal week and a quarter of people (24%) say they find it hard to relax in their personal time because of work.  Work is also implicated by those surveyed as a factor in poor mental health. Of those who’ve experienced anxiety in the last year, a massive 69% say their job was a contributing factor. Of those who’ve experienced depression, 58% said the same was true.  Exploring these issues further during the COVID-19 lockdown, the CIPD conducted a snapshot survey of 1,001 workers, which finds:  
  • 22% said it was likely they would lose their job in the next twelve months 
  • 43% of those with a mental health condition say the pandemic has contributed to or worsened their condition 
  • 29% of those with anxiety say the pandemic has contributed to or worsened their condition.  

How can employers support mental wellbeing during and after the COVID-19 pandemic?

In response, the CIPD is recommending that employers promote healthy working practices, for example:  
  • Ask about workloads and ensure employees are not under excessive pressure 
  • Ensure managers are well trained in having supportive, sensitive discussions on wellbeing – and that they recognise the importance of regular communication in a world of remote working 
  • Promote existing health and wellbeing benefits, such as their counselling helpline 
  • Give workers more autonomy or control over how, when and where they work, to help them manage work pressures.
“While the Government is right to focus on protecting as many jobs as possible, it should also be encouraging employers to look at job quality,” counsels Johnny Gifford.“Not only is there a moral imperative to do so, but if people are happy and healthy in their jobs they also perform better, take less time off and are less likely to drop out of the workforce. In the long run, this will help us get on the road to economic recovery sooner.”Follow Relocate Global’s coverage of the CIPD’s virtual Festival of Work at and on Twitter via @Relocatemag

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