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Two-fifths of workers in the UK “languishing”

Alastair Campbell, now a mental health ambassador, says “Leaders need to change!”

More than two in every five workers say they are “languishing” at work, according to research from Randstad UK.

The term ‘languishing’ was coined by American sociologist Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving.  ‘Languishing’ represents the emotional long haul of the pandemic as it has dragged on and has been described as ‘the dominant emotion of 2021’ and came to wider attention when the New York Times ran a piece on it in March.

More than two in every five workers told the recruiter Randstad that the pandemic had left them feeling ‘aimless’ while more than a quarter of employees said the pandemic had left them unable to concentrate properly.  A third described how the pandemic had sapped their motivation.

When asked about their sense of purpose and direction, 42 percent said the pandemic had left them feeling ‘aimless’.  Just under half (46 per cent) reported no change in their sense of purpose – while an eighth (12 percent) said they had been feeling less aimless since the start of the pandemic.

A third (33 per cent) of workers reported the pandemic had dulled their motivation.  Almost half (47 per cent) say it hasn’t changed their motivation, with the remainder saying they were more motivated.

While more than a half of workers (57 per cent) said they saw no difference in their concentration, 27 per cent said they were finding it harder to concentrate.  Fewer than one in six reported they were finding it easier to concentrate (16 per cent).

Victoria Short, CEO of Randstad UK said: As we head into a new post-pandemic reality, it’s time to look again at how we survive depression and mental illness.  It’s particularly important given such a huge slice of the workforce is not the picture of mental health. Employees are having trouble concentrating.  Their motivation has been dulled and their ability to focus is limited. They feel despondent, drained, and indifferent.  They’re despairing quietly and their drive has dwindled.  They aren’t excited about anything and they’re experiencing a deep sense of stagnation and emptiness.  They aren’t burnt out  necessarily but they’re struggling.  They feel aimless – they’re languishing.  The scale of the problem should give employers pause for thought, if only for selfish reasons – they are going to need employees who are fired-up if they are to rebuild their businesses post-Covid.  And currently, the employees of UK plc are not functioning at full capacity.”

The research was unveiled at a webinar hosted by the HR giant with guest speaker, Alastair Campbell, former spokesman, press secretary and director of communications to Tony Blair, mental health ambassador, and author of Living Better: How I Learnt to Survive Depression.

Alastair Campbell said: If there is one good thing that might come out of the pandemic it is a greater understanding of the reality that we all have mental health. That does not mean we are all mentally ill, but it does mean everyone might struggle at times. While the government of David Cameron legislated on the principle that there should be parity between mental health and physical health, we’re a long way from that, in terms of resources, services and attitudes.

“If we cannot rely on the government, we need to look to our employers. There are fantastic examples of organisations prioritising the mental health of employees – Bank of Ireland, for instance. It comes down to leadership. But we have to practice what we preach. When I was leading a team in Number 10, I used to get in not long after 6am, and was often last to leave. I’d tell them that it didn’t mean they had to do the same. But that’s easy to say.  Several of them have since told me that they felt I didn’t mean it. And when I texted them or phoned them on a Saturday afternoon and they didn’t pick up straight away, I got irritated.  Leaders need to make the change and that’s the hardest part of the cultural change.

Campbell, drawing on the lessons of his best-selling depression memoir, LIVING BETTER: How I learned to survive depression, added: “There is also an awful lot we can do for ourselves. Sleep, diet, exercise, understanding the importance of relationships, and drawing on the support of our partners, families, and friends. Undertaking meaningful activities. Enjoying interests away from work. We have to accept  our own responsibility as well as look to others.

He said stigma and taboo were eroding, but they were still there. “People will still ask the question, ‘What has so and so got to be depressed about?’ as though it was a choice. It is an illness. You would never ask someone what they had to be cancerous about, would you?”

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