Post-pandemic: are we experiencing more or less work related stress?

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our economy, public health and the medical-care system, and it has accelerated numerous trends in how work is structured. Pre-Covid, the UK was already seeing a slow growth in the number of employees working from home, with around 5% of the workforce reporting working mainly from home in 2019 and around 30% reporting that they did, on occasions, work from home. This increased rapidly during the pandemic. In April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment did some work at home, with 86% of those who did some work at home doing so as a direct result of the pandemic.

The proportion of employees that always worked from home reached levels of around 30% from April to June 2020, gradually declining to 21% in September 2020. Post pandemic, many businesses have retained flexible and hybrid models of working and that trend looks set to stay. Hybrid working can help businesses attract and retain staff as well as increase staff productivity as its flexibility allows a balance between work and personal responsibilities. It also guards against social and professional isolation with the healthy mixture of home and office.  Flexible working is also positively associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, arising in part from greater autonomy and a greater work-life balance.

According to a study by Cascade HR into work related stress, introducing flexible working hours contributes most to reducing stress at work. The research surveyed over 1,000 full-time or part-time employees and asked them what their employers could do to help reduce stress. Introducing flexible working hours was cited by nearly half of respondents. So given more and more of us are able to work more flexibly are we seeing a reduction in work-related stress?

Reducing your childcare costs

If you have children, flexible working could be the Holy Grail that helps your life run more smoothly. Having to turn up to an office at nine and leave at five doesn’t help the average worker that may need to do the school run (or look after an elderly parent or attend an appointment to see a doctor). If you have the benefit of working from home, you can also reduce costs on childcare. Whether your children are of school age or younger, the fact you can take the commute out of the equation could mean you save money on breakfast and after school clubs for your children, childminding or nursery costs. If you are a keen multi-tasker, you could eradicate childcare costs completely on the days you are able to work from home too.

More free time

Removing the commute to and from the workplace is giving employees more personal time to relax, resulting in an overall better work/life balance. Commuting is considered one of the most stressful events in existence. If it is left unaddressed, the stress it causes can develop into more damaging mental health issues. Being able to work at home also allows you to complete tasks that may not usually be done until the evenings or weekends such as the washing, calling a utilities company, booking in an appointment etc, which frees up precious time that can be used for relaxing and winding down. Maintaining a positive work/life balance allows employees to feel much more positive about life generally, benefitting their health and wellbeing.

Lower travel costs

Without the commute to work, employees can save a considerable amount of money on travel. Many train operators now offer flexi tickets to help those who don’t travel into the office every day, giving them the same discounted fares for three or four days a week compared to those who have a ticket for seven days a week. And, if you drive into work, the soaring cost of fuel cannot have escaped you. And, of course, there’s the added environmental benefit of reducing your carbon footprint.

More job satisfaction

Given the freedom to adapt their working hours and/or location, employees report a stronger relationship of trust with their employers, resulting in a higher rate of job satisfaction.

Employees value being valued; if employers not only accommodate needs and wants put forward by staff, but go the extra mile to ensure they enjoy their working day, it’s likely to instil a feeling of loyalty. If employees feel they are valued, which includes allowing them to work from where they wish and when, they are likely to have more job satisfaction and lower stress levels, which in turn means they’re less likely to be searching for a job. Happy employees are loyal employees.

Many forward-looking businesses now see that flexible working is nothing to fear and many potential recruits can raise the subject in interviews without feeling they could lose a prospective job. Flexible working is a proven way for businesses to retain talent.

Although early days, it’s thought that the more flexible ways of working has reduced our psychological and physical work-related stress. From the viewpoint of mental health, the change of working styles is expected to have positive effects, long after the end of the pandemic. Now that can only be a positive outcome.

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