'Wellbeing timebomb' | UK staff pulling longer hours & taking fewer sick days

UK staff pulling longer hours & taking fewer sick days

New research has found that UK staff are pulling longer hours and taking fewer sick days in what could be described as a ‘wellbeing timebomb’.

Shockingly, new statistics have revealed that two in five (43%) staff members say that their wellbeing is ‘less than good’, with 34% stating that they carried on working even when they didn’t feel well.

In fact, and worryingly for the HR function, just 26% of staff agreed that their employer is genuinely concerned about wellbeing – something which could cause problems in the workforce if left unmanaged.

In addition to this, the research – which was published in Aviva’s Embracing the Age of Ambiguity report – shed light on employer-employee relationships.

The research found that as well as staff working physically remotely in light of the pandemic, staff are increasingly becoming emotionally remote too.

In fact, the study found that while just over half (54%) of UK staff said that their firm had done enough to create a sense of ‘company togetherness’ – including internal comms around future work arrangements and open channels of dialogue – efforts were having a limited impact.

Just 15% of staff agreed that their employer is doing enough to understand what properly motivates them. This, according to the study, is said to be challenging their sense of purpose, changing their relationship with their employer, which is sparked by less focus on job satisfaction.

This results in ‘employee drift’ which can make it more complex for employers to retain top talent and capture new talent.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE, Co-Founder of Robertson Cooper and 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, Alliance Manchester Business School, explained: “Levels of uncertainty for employees have ebbed and flowed during my career, but this year has been different.”

“Undoubtedly this includes a shift in the relationship between employers and their employees. A new partnership is required. One that recognises the immense challenges to employee wellbeing, as well as the need for more a personalised approach. We all have different personalities, different ways of dealing with pressure and different needs – knowledge is growing in this area,” he added.

Aviva’s study – a snapshot was first carried out in February 2020 and then repeated in August together with wellbeing specialists Robertson Cooper – also found that more than half of UK staff agreed that boundaries between home and work had blurred.

Elsewhere, the study also unearthed that more than half of UK employees (52%) agreed that the boundaries between their work and home life had blurred as many continue to work from home in light of the coronavirus crisis.

Pandemic sparks longer workdays and email deluge

A separate study of 3.1million global workers – published by the National Bureau of Economic Relations – looked into employee behaviours both before and after COVID-19 lockdown periods.

The study found that the working day lasted almost an hour longer (48.5 minutes) for many employees.

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In addition to this, Bloomberg previously reported that when meeting and email data was analysed, staff members sent 1.4 more emails on average per day to colleagues, while the number of meetings had increased by more than ten per cent.

Jeff Polzer, a Professor in the Organisational Behaviour Department at Harvard Business School, and a Co-Author of the study, explained: “People have adjusted their work patterns”.

The importance of work-life balance

If employees are putting in longer work hours, it is possible that their work-life balance could take a hit which could cause issues for the HR function.

To help promote a better work-life balance, Hayley Randall, People Development Manager at ICD Property, previously shared the following tips with HR Grapevine.

Going for a walk around the block can mimic the work commute and help staff to separate between the start and finish of the working day.

Encouraging staff to log off on time and pack away work belongings can prevent employees from feeling tempted to ‘reply to a quick email’ in the evening.

Most importantly, ensuring that those at the top are engaging in these practices themselves is key to give further validation to staff that this is supported.

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