The return to work: 3 key questions



30 March 2021

It was a year ago last week that the United Kingdom entered the first of the COVID-19 lockdowns that the nation has continued to endure on and off ever since.  And to commemorate this unwanted milestone the research company YouGov has now issued some new findings on how the last 12 months has impacted individual citizens across the nation.

Firstly – and importantly – the research highlights how many people have directly felt the impact of a COVID-19 infection.

The survey of more than 2,000 UK adults evidences that more than 3 in every 4 people (77%) know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.  More than a third of respondents (36%) know someone that has become seriously unwell as a result of the infection, and very tragically 16% have seen a family member or close friend die of the virus. 

The impact on mental health?

These are deeply sobering and depressing facts, yet the impact of the pandemic reaches far beyond the headline case numbers and mortality rates alone.  Lockdowns, restrictions, job losses, reduced incomes, economic uncertainty, social isolation, loneliness, and a thousand other minor but important challenges has ensured that the last year is one that most of us would really like to forget.  Yet the damage is done, and the resultant cost on the nation’s mental health is clearly set out in the statistics too.

More than two thirds of respondents (67%) reported that the coronavirus outbreak had damaged their mental health to some degree – with 1 in 10 (10%) suggesting a “very negative” impact.  For some (26%) it was the return of a previous mental health issue, but 17% experienced a mental health problem for the first time during the pandemic.  And whilst the results were not entirely uniform across the different demographic groupings surveyed, there is clear evidence that some people in every grouping suffered.

None of the above makes for comfortable reading, particularly if we accept that the pandemic is very far from over either in this country or around the world.  The truth is that COVID has damaged millions of people physically and/or mentally so far, and will hurt many more still in the future.

Yet the reality is that the Treasury coffers and the nation’s economy probably can’t take much more punishment, and it follows that a return to the physical workplace and something like normality is now required.  The success of the UK vaccination programme is central to this return, but so too is the support that employers offer to help ease the return of their employees to more everyday working practices.

Three key questions for employers

So, as employers and employees nervously eye a return to the physical workplace, we would encourage employers to review their health and wellbeing policies to ensure that everything that can be provided to support workers is both available and well-communicated to workers.

Three key questions that employers should ask as part of this review include:

  1. Are all of our employees supported and protected by our current employee benefits offering?
  2. How well have we communicated what is on offer, and what plans do we have to reinforce this messaging in the months immediately ahead?
  3. Can all employees – regardless of location – access the employee benefits when needed?

These three questions – alongside a robust infection-secure policy – may help provide a safe working environment for employees as they return to work, which in turn should speed the return to full productivity that each and every employer will be aiming to achieve in the months ahead.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.

(Published 30/03/21)

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

Steve Herbert

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