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Dramatic increase in absence and presenteeism as new work era settles

“Gen Zs indicated that they are feeling 17% more disconnected from their local communities than they did during the pandemic”

A report entitled: Rethinking the future of workplace wellbeing – Managing change in the post-pandemic era* which was collected in the period between May 2021 and November 2022, shows that absence reported by employees has increased by 29% and presenteeism has increased by 18% during that period.

The increased volume of absences highlights the uptick in episodes of Covid-19 and in short term illness such as coughs, colds and flu following the end of lockdown and a move back to onsite working, for at least some of the working week. The data also denotes a change in the type of illness being reported with the percentage of mental health issues decreasing slightly.

These findings come against the backdrop of less than 0.9% improvement in productivity since 2020 and the highest sickness absence rate for a decade. The UK was also set to be the only industrialised country with employment below its pre-pandemic levels at the start of 2023, according to recent analysis by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES).

Intention to quit suggests new ways of working might not be the employee wellbeing panacea
In line with other studies, Fruitful Insights say their research findings indicate that the new ways of working challenge for office-based employees is still a conundrum, with no clear picture as to preferred working patterns. The findings show that there has been a slight improvement in working relationships, which reflects a return to more normal working patterns, but this is accompanied by a slight increase in the intention to quit which, at 41% overall, remains stubbornly high; staff attrition representing a primary driver of impaired workplace wellbeing. This trend is particularly evident in the Generation X group; with 40% of the group indicating they are now very likely or definitely inclined to leave, compared with 34% previously. Gen X is a key cohort in the working population, representing some of the most experienced and highly skilled in the UK workforce and are costly to replace, says Fruitful.

Commenting on the results Mike Tyler, Chairman and Co-founder of Fruitful Insights, said: “These numbers should represent a wake-up call for employers. Despite everyone’s great sigh of relief as we returned to business as usual, there are still fundamental challenges around workplace wellbeing.

“Significant investment in wellbeing initiatives is made by many organisations, but major issues remain. We believe that although employers have the best intentions, they are really struggling to understand and measure the drivers of impaired wellbeing in their organisations – not to mention connecting wellbeing with productivity. Even when they do know what the problems are, they still need help putting in place meaningful and effective programmes.”

The report also confirmed the increasing challenge of financial stresses, which was starting to increase at the time the data was collected in Q3, 2022. Again, this signifies another area that will impact on business performance and could be alleviated to some degree with help from employers, claims Fruitful Insights.

The determinants of employee wellbeing are complex and necessitate joined-up thinking
The study findings highlight differences across the generations. A feeling of social disconnection was felt most keenly by Gen Z and Millennials, respectively. The data indicates they are less able to depend on friends and family, with Gen Zs indicated that they are feeling 17% more disconnected from their local communities than they did during the pandemic.  Respondents also indicated they felt local services (health, transport, social services) had declined.

Fruitful’s Clinical Psychology Advisor Dr Michelle O’Sullivan commented: “Despite having been stuck in lockdown, often within their local communities, younger generations continue to show a worrying lack of connection to the people around them, and a reduced reliance on friends and families. Our increasing disconnection from the people we live with, work with, and connect with in our communities is not how we were designed to function as human beings. We are social animals and our mental wellbeing is strongly linked to the quality of our relationships. It’s critical that businesses support great social interactions as part of positive workplace environments and that we make spending time with friends and family easy.”

*Report from Fruitful Insights

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