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The return to work is so important to struggling furloughed workers’ mental health

According to new research carried out by the world’s largest job site, Indeed, furloughed workers say returning to the workplace will be just as important to their mental health as having a job, with half admitting their mental health is worse in this lockdown than in lockdown 1.0.

Returning to the workplace is as important to furloughed workers’ mental health as having a job, according to new research*

A YouGov survey of UK employers and employees for Indeed analysed how the pandemic has affected their mental health a year on from the first lockdown, with full results outlined in its ‘Working on Wellbeing’ report. 

The findings suggest the 2021 lockdown has been more difficult than last year’s, with 44% of all employees saying their mental health is worse now than when restrictions were in place last spring. Only 15% of workers said their mental health is better than it was this time last year. 

This is especially the case for women, 50% of whom say their mental health is worse now than last year, compared to 38% of men. The findings align with data released by the ONS which showed women’s well-being was more negatively affected than men’s during the first year of the pandemic, with women more likely to be furloughed, spend more time on unpaid household work and childcare, and less time working from home2.

Furloughed workers are struggling marginally more than those still in work. 51% of full-time furloughed workers say their mental health is worse than it was during the first lockdown, along with 57% of workers who are furloughed on a part-time basis. 

Nearly two in five (38%) furloughed employees say returning to the workplace will improve their mental health, with the same proportion feeling their mental wellbeing would be boosted if they had greater certainty about their employment. 

Overall, 41% of all workers expect their mental health will improve in the next three to six months, with the easing of lockdown restrictions helping the most. 

Joe Wicks, often referred to as The Body Coach, has contributed his top tips for mental wellbeing to Indeed’s mental health report, and suggests talking with family, friends and work colleagues about how you are feeling can help. This may be particularly important in the coming months, as people who have been working from home all year start to return to the workplace. 

The pandemic has accelerated working from home and flexible working trends – but employees and bosses alike are largely in agreement that while the workplace may change to adopt some of these habits, they mostly want things to return to normal. 

Almost a third of workers (31%) said they eventually want their worklife to return to exactly how it was before the pandemic, while an additional 44% want their worklife to return largely to the way it was.

Employees’ expectations are broadly in line with those of their employers, with almost half of bosses (47%) saying their workplace will mostly go back to normal, but there will still be some changes. 

Bill Richards, UK managing director at Indeed, comments: “The most recent lockdown has taken its toll on many employees’ mental health, with 44% saying they’re doing worse now than when restrictions came into force a year ago.

“The good news is that many are also feeling optimistic that their mental health will soon improve, thanks to the easing of restrictions and the prospect of a return to the workplace. For furloughed workers, the prospect of getting back into the routine of work looks set to have an uplifting effect on their wellbeing. 

“During the pandemic, flexible working has been highly valued by employees who have been able to work from home or adjust their working hours, and we know such flexibility can help to improve people’s mental health and boost productivity. 

“It is therefore essential that as people return to the workplace, employers continue to communicate with the employees about mental health and build a culture where workers feel supported and are comfortable finding out if their company offers flexible working options which could help them.” 

Fitness coach Joe Wicks, also known as The Body Coach, comments: “One thing I think is more important than ever right now is communicating how you feel with friends and family or work colleagues. 

“A lot of people are suffering with feelings of anxiety and depression and bottling up a lot of emotion. It’s essential for your mental health to know you are not alone and to communicate your feelings. 

“Staying connected with friends or family and letting it out will really help you realise that you are not feeling it alone.” 

Joe Wicks’ top tips for improving mental health and wellbeing:

  1. Sleep is your best friend – “It’s so easy to get into a routine of having little sleep and we just try to push on but sleep really is essential especially for our mental health. Studies have shown the importance of sleep for our stress levels and a link between lack of sleep and depression. If you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep and know it could be better, this should be your number one priority.”
  2. You’ll never regret a workout – “I’m a big believer in the power of a morning workout to set you up for a positive and energised day but the truth is exercise is good for you any time of the day, so I suggest exercising at the time you feel most energised.”
  3. Prep like a boss – “Since the very start of my journey on social media I’ve been highlighting the importance of meal prepping like a boss to get lean and healthy. Batch cooking big meals like homemade chilli, Bolognese, risotto or soups and stews means you are literally setting yourself up for success.”
  4. Hydrate for the win – “Many people do not hydrate enough. Everything in the body functions better when we are properly hydrated. It helps with feelings of hunger but also helps with your energy, focus and concentration.” 
  5. Stay connected and keep talking – “I had a cry on a live Instagram one night in front of 5000 people and I felt absolutely fantastic after. It’s okay to feel emotional and to let that show. Having a good cry or a talk will release that energy and you’ll always feel better afterwards.” 

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