The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and following containment measures will have a long-lasting impact on the economy, businesses and working lives. Organisations have had to make rapid changes to how they operate, including how and where jobs are carried out. Workers in turn, have to navigate ‘new normal’ ways of working, as well as adapt to changing circumstances in their personal life.

Building on the CIPD Good Work Index 2020’s examination of job quality and working lives, we are tracking employees’ perspectives on working during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first survey sample of 1,001 UK workers, carried out by YouGov for the CIPD in April 2020, provides insight on the impact of COVID-19 on key aspects of work and issues such as furlough and returning to the workplace.

We’ll be surveying UK workers on a monthly basis until September 2020. Check back regularly for the latest insights on the impact of COVID-19 on working lives.

Coronavirus and the workforce

Our data shows a number of key concerns for employees, including work–life balance, wellbeing and job security. That said, employees’ experiences of working during the pandemic differed depending on individual circumstances, with some adapting to working remotely, others furloughed and many still attending their normal places of work.

  • 21% were furloughed – and half of these said they did not know when they’d return to work 
  • Of those still working, 61% were working remotely all the time 
  • 39% were going to their normal workplace for some or all the time 

Flexible working and work–life balance

Maintaining a healthy work–life balance has becoming increasingly challenging, with 3 in 10 finding it hard to fulfil commitments outside of work due to time spent on their job. This figure increases to 4 in 10 for those who are juggling increased caring responsibilities with work. Similarly, those with increased caring responsibilities are more likely to say they are finding it difficult to do their job properly due to other commitments. Ensuring flexible working provision is in place to support working carers is key. Employers need to support employees to work flexibly, to balance work and other commitments. They need to recognise that remote working doesn’t equal flexibility.

  • 30% said their ability to work has been impacted by a change in caring responsibilities since the outbreak.

  • 32% find it difficult to fulfil commitments outside of work due to time spent on their job, compared to 24% in January 2020.

  • This is particularly true for those whose caring responsibilities have increased during the pandemic: 39% of this group reported difficulty fulfilling commitments outside of work because of time spent on their job, compared to 28% of those without increased caring responsibility.

  • 14% of those with increased caring responsibilities said they found it difficult to do their job properly because of commitments outside of work, compared to 7% without increased caring responsibilities.

Job and financial security

Job insecurity is on the rise, with more workers saying it’s likely they’ll lose their job compared to January 2020. Employees are also unlikely to be looking to leave their jobs in the next 12 months, suggesting that job loss or lack of job opportunities is a real concern for workers. 

This is a particular worry for furloughed workers, who face uncertainty about their long-term job security. They are also more likely to report financial concerns, with almost 6 in 10 saying their financial security has become worse since the pandemic. With many furloughed workers having little indication of when they can return to work, employers should stay in touch with furloughed workers and give information about returning when they can, as well as provide financial wellbeing support

  • 22% said it was likely they would lose their job in the next 12 months, compared to just 13% in January 2020.

  • 38% of furloughed workers think it likely they’ll lose their job in the next 12 months.

  • Only 13% of respondents said they’d voluntarily quit their job in the next 12 months.

  • 39% think their financial security has worsened since the COVID-19 outbreak – rising to 57% for furloughed workers.

Health, safety, wellbeing

While there has been a huge increase in homeworking, many are going into their normal workplace. Health, safety and managing the risk of infection should be top priority in these workplaces. Positively, many (58%) said they were able to socially distance at work and had the right protective equipment (61%). However, a significant minority say they don’t have these resources in place. Almost half (47%) are concerned about catching COVID-19 at work, highlighting the importance of consulting with employees on health and safety measures and ensuring workplaces are COVID-safe.

The Good Work Index has tracked mental and physical workplace health since 2018, revealing a steady decline. This trend has continued through the pandemic, and it seems COVID-19 is having a direct impact on mental and physical health: around four in ten workers say their mental and physical health has worsened since the pandemic. Those with existing health conditions are finding this time particularly challenging. Employers and managers need to check in on employee health and wellbeing regularly, and ensure the right support is in place, recognising each individual’s own circumstances.

  • 28% said that work had a negative impact on their mental health. This represents a small increase compared to 27% who said this in January 2020.

  • Similarly, 31% said work had a negative impact on their physical health, up from 26% in January 2020.

  • 43% said their general mental health has worsened since the outbreak, rising to 52% for those with an existing mental health issue.

  • 35% said their general physical health has become worse

Looking ahead

In the coming weeks and months, many organisations will shift their focus on enabling employees to return to the workplace. But many are concerned.

  • 44% are anxious about returning to work, rising to 62% for those with an underlying health condition.
  • 53% with increased caring responsibilities are anxious about returning.
  • 31% of respondents felt anxious about their commute, rising to 52% for those in London.

Flexibility, wellbeing, health and safety are priorities for organisations as they reopen their workplaces. Our findings highlight that it’s imperative to take into account individual circumstances, such as existing health conditions, how people get to work, and care responsibilities. Communication and consultation with staff will be key to ensuring any return to work is safe. The CIPD has also set out three tests for employers before they bring people back to the workplace, and a returning to the workplace planner to help navigate these tests. 

This is a time of rapid change. How employers communicate with and support staff during this will undoubtedly impact job quality, and employees’ trust in their employers.

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