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Always-on culture fuelling rise in mental health crisis

This year’s State of the Frontline Workforce Report is a culmination of six studies undertaken over five years. It compares responses from before the pandemic to now, looking at topics like mental health, work-life balance, flexibility, technology and the cost of living.

‘Toxic’ environments, poor communication and frustration over low pay are resulting in the overall decline in wellbeing of the UK’s frontline workers, according to a new study – as data shows that deskless employees are more likely than ever to experience mental and/or physical ill health as a result of their jobs.

The global State of the Frontline Workforce report* has monitored the attitudes and behaviours of tens of thousands of deskless employees worldwide since 2020, in the US and Europe.  Over 11,000 UK workers have been surveyed over five years, including before and during the Covid pandemic – in industries such as retail, hospitality, transport and distribution.

The report reveals that around half of those surveyed in the UK now say their mental or physical health has been affected by work, compared to 38% in March 2020 – with retail (50%) and hospitality staff (49%) most likely to be impacted.

Taking work home

A massive 88% of today’s frontline staff say they continue to think about work when they’ve clocked off – overturning the common stereotype of deskless employees leaving their jobs behind at the end of every shift. The majority (41%) say they spend time considering ways to improve their performance or how to help the company, while a similar number (40%) admit to thinking about their stressful working environment.

The research also indicates that changes in technology and social media usage may be contributing to the increase in deskless employees ‘taking work home’. Over half (55%) say that WhatsApp is their primary workplace communication channel for messaging between management and workers, compared to 20% in 2023. In the hospitality sector, WhatsApp usage increases to 75%.

Rising stress levels

In 2022, 41% of workers experienced stress from understaffing. The following year, 53% reported feeling stressed at work – 39% due to low pay and the cost of living, while 37% attributed it to understaffing. Today, six out of ten employees (60%) say they experience workplace stress – with most respondents (30%) blaming the cost of living, and 16% affected by poor communication between staff and management.

However, a comparison of the report’s global statistics show that UK stress levels are lower than average (66%), with all countries surveyed apart from Denmark and the Netherlands reporting a higher incidence of workplace stress.

Other findings include:

  • Flexibility and work-life balance – less of a priority? In 2022, 30% of employees who said they were considering quitting their jobs gave ‘no work-life balance’ as the main reason, while in 2024 just 18% said the same – with the majority (40%) now likely to leave in search of higher pay.

  • Today, 56% believe their employer would be supportive of them requesting a flexible working arrangement, but half of these think the nature of their role would prevent such flexibility.

  • In it for the long haul: Despite half of all frontline staff in 2024 saying they’d recently considered leaving their current role, only 39% see their job as a short-term option (decreasing to 27% of 35–44-year-olds)– indicating less inclination to ‘jump ship’ in the current climate.

Toma Pagojute, chief HR officer at Quinyx, says: “Cost of living pressures are sadly still commonplace, and even with pay rises, companies can’t always alleviate employees’ money-related stress. Decent pay and regular wage reviews are motivating, of course – and should be standard. Yet there is plenty that managers can do to ease other pressures, so employees aren’t being kept awake at night worrying about toxic environments and poor communication.

“While our findings paint a fairly bleak picture, we hope they encourage companies to review how they engage with staff, check in with them to see how they’re feeling and open up dialogue – to benefit both sides.”

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