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UK employees ‘excited to return to work’ (but have higher expectations)

Workers have reported improvements in productivity and mental health over the past several weeks due to the rise in remote working and see light at the end of the tunnel, but engagement and motivation remain low, according to new research.

UK employees ‘excited to return to work’ (but have higher expectations)

A new wave of an ongoing study conducted by Toluna and Harris Interactive, two leading providers of consumer intelligence, assesses how UK employees are coping with working life amidst the COVID19 pandemic and analyses their attitudes about the future. It reveals employers are likely to face challenges rebuilding employee engagement with the business and ensuring a healthy organization when lockdown ends.

The study was carried out on April 23, 2020 as part of a global study which surveyed 607 employees from the UK. The first wave was conducted on April 01, 2020.


UK employee engagement remains significantly below normal levels, while commitment, motivation, and general satisfaction with their job and employer have declined.

Toluna Analysis: “Employee engagement has taken a major hit as a result of the pandemic, even more so than the financial crisis of 2008. This week’s results indicate that it could be some time before organisations see employee engagement bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.

It’s critical for organisations to keep an ear to the ground and understand shifting sentiment so they can swiftly take action to support their workforce. Engagement enhances business performance and competitive advantage, so rallying employees is paramount to survival today and success in the future as the landscape begins to normalize,” said Vijay Mistry, Head of Employee Experience Research for Harris Interactive and Toluna.

UK Employees are optimistic and excited to get back to work • 46% of UK employees feel they will return to their normal place of work within two months, as compared with only 12% more than three weeks ago • 57% of UK employees are either enthusiastic or relieved about the thought of returning to their normal working arrangements

Toluna Analysis: “It’s clear that UK workers have adapted well to their new remote working arrangements, but there is a growing appetite for structure and routine. Although employees have accepted their current situations as the ‘new normal’ and hope to see greater flexibility in working arrangements when they return to an office environment, they recognise the current work-life situation is not a permanent one,” said Vijay Mistry, Head of Employee Experience Research for Harris Interactive and Toluna.

Pressures on employees will be heightened upon return to work

• 25% of employees expect pressure to be much higher, while half of respondents think workloads and job demands/pressure will return to at least similar levels • 36% believe there will be salary, promotion, or recruitment freezes • 30% are expecting more redundancies

Toluna Analysis: “Employees are under no illusion that work-life after the pandemic will return to where it was. Employers can rest assured that workers recognise there will be major adjustments as businesses attempt to get back on track. In fact, employees expect they will have to work harder with fewer resources than before the pandemic. They also understand career opportunities and rewards will be limited by comparison, signaling their acknowledgement of their role in the recovery of the wider economy and future success of their employer,” said Vijay Mistry, Head of Employee Experience Research for Harris Interactive and Toluna.

Expected changes in workplaces will center on hygiene and flexibility

• 67% of respondents believe hygiene and cleanliness will improve • 51% think there will be increased flexibility around working hours and schedules • 47% expect to see improvements around home working arrangements, enabled by the increased use of online collaboration tools Productivity at home increases • Only 35% of respondents report they feel less productive working remotely, in comparison with 40% in Wave 1 of the study • Though a large proportion (44%) of employees state their workload is lower than normal, 5% more employees feel their workload is higher than normal

Toluna Analysis: “Businesses have made excuses for years to limit people from working remotely, despite increasing employee calls for flexibility. The excuse of impossibility will no longer hold up. Employees are not only comfortable working remotely but have demonstrated they can be just as productive at home. As a result, increased flexibility will be an inevitable expectation that employers will have to manage when work-life starts to return to normal,” said Vijay Mistry, Head of Employee Experience Research for Harris Interactive and Toluna.

Employees want increased communication and teamwork

• 51% want regular team meetings • 44% want work to be distributed evenly across their team • 41% want regular updates on the company (e.g. financial and performance updates)

Toluna Analysis: “Our results show employers have continued to provide the necessary support to remote workers and communicate well throughout the pandemic, but employees still want more support to help them work effectively and bridge the productivity gap. Managers in particular must ensure fairness and transparency, which can be particularly difficult when managing remotely,” said Vijay Mistry, Head of Employee Experience Research for Harris Interactive and Toluna.

Mental and physical health status

Mental health has increased from 39% reporting bad mental health in Wave 1 to 32% in Wave 2. The driving factors of mental health challenges are general anxiety about the pandemic and anxiety over health of friends and/or family. Surprisingly, the lowest contributors were anxieties about their day-to-day job or job security.

Physical health has increased. 36% of UK employees in Wave 1 reported bad health, which has reduced to 23%, and 9% more now say it is good or very good compared to normal (39%). Where health is reported as lower than before lockdown, employees stated they have adopted some bad behaviors, most notably eating less healthily, taking less exercise, and drinking more alcohol.

Toluna Analysis: “Although our results demonstrate a slight improvement over the last three weeks, the current and returning workforce will likely not be as mentally and physically well as they were prior to the pandemic. Employers must recognise employees returning to work will have adopted some bad habits that could have an impact on their effectiveness. Organisations that have a strong focus on wellbeing should be well prepared to deal with the long-term effects of employees’ fluctuating mental and physical health,” said Vijay Mistry, Head of Employee Experience Research for Harris Interactive and Toluna.


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