The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and following containment measures will have a long-lasting impact on the economy, businesses and working lives. Organisations have had to make rapid changes to how they operate, including how and where jobs are carried out, as well as planning for, or returning staff to work safely. Workers in turn, have to navigate new ways of working, as well as adapt to changing circumstances in their personal life.

Building on the CIPD Good Work Index's investigation of job quality and working lives, we are examining people’s experience of work during the COVID-19 pandemic. On this page, you’ll find insight from our May and June surveys, conducted by YouGov for the CIPD. Findings from our April survey can be viewed at the foot of this page. 

We’ll be surveying UK workers on a monthly basis until September 2020. Check back regularly for the latest insights on the impact of COVID-19 on working lives.

Summary

Our April data showed that work–life balance, wellbeing and job security have been challeng during the pandemic. These remained the case through May and June, with job and also pay security a particular concern for furloughed workers.

The proportion of workers in our survey who were furloughed had decreased from 25% in May to 17% in June. Conversely, the proportion of workers working normal hours increased from 49% in May to 56% in June. While a majority of respondents who weren't furloughed (58%) are still working from home all of the time in June, this proportion has dropped since April. More workers are being required by their employer to attend their normal place of work in some capacity, from 37% in May to 40% in June.

On the whole, employees are satisfied (7-in-10) with how their employers are responding to COVID-19. The same proportion say their manager has checked in on their health and wellbeing. Employees largely report that line management support and fairness have held up to pre-pandemic levels.

However, employees are continuing to feel anxious about returning to the workplace, though the proportion of workers feeling this way declined from 50% in May to 45% in June:

  • Only 55% said they’ve been given adequate information about returning to work, with just 44% saying they’d been adequately consulted about returning.
  • Consultation can reduce anxiety about returning to the workplace. 62% of people who didn’t feel adequately consulted are anxious about returning, compared with 42% of people who have been adequately consulted.
  • Employers also need to prioritise health and safety, as 21% currently going into their normal workplace are not satisfied with the health and safety measures put in place by their employer, and 32% of those currently going into their normal workplace were anxious about catching or spreading COVID-19 at work.

The findings are a prompt to employers to adopt the CIPD’s three tests for returning staff to the workplace – namely to first consider whether it is safe, essential and mutually agreed.

Job and financial security

Job insecurity remained high in May and June, where 23% and 19% respectively say they think it’s likely they’ll lose their job, compared to only 13% in January in our Good Work Index report. Those fears may be well-founded given findings in our recent Labour Market Outlook survey showing employers’ redundancy intentions are set to increase.

Furloughed workers are clearly more concerned about job loss as illustrated in Figure 1. Increasingly, they also face uncertainty about returning to work – 60% in June didn’t know when their furlough would end, up from 55% in May.

Interestingly, the proportion of both furloughed and non-furloughed workers who said they would likely quit their job in the next 12 months have grown in the last two months. For furloughed workers, the proportion had risen from 14% in April to 23% in June. For non-furloughed workers, there was a less marked rise from 12% in April to 14% in June.

Pay and financial security has also been adversely impacted. In June, around 2-in-10 (18%) of non-furloughed workers are receiving lower pay than usual, rising to 7-in-10 (71%) for furloughed workers.

Unsurprisingly then, over half (55%) of furloughed workers in June said their financial security has worsened since the onset of the pandemic with 28% of non-furloughed workers also in agreement.

Workload and work–life balance

Workload has a strong influence on mental and physical health, so employers need to ensure workload is managed properly and distributed fairly. While on the whole, the proportion of workers who say they have too much work has stayed fairly consistent since January (28% in June, 32% in January) the impact of COVID-19 on key workers’ workloads have been distinctly more pronounced.

In June, 37% of key workers said they had too much work, compared to 24% of non-key workers. May and April saw a similar contrast between key workers and non-key workers (42% key workers vs 24% non-key in May, and 44% vs 28% in April).

In part, this is because there are also more saying their workload is too little. Non-key workers, for instance, are more likely to say they have too little work. In June, 18% of non-key workers said they had too little work, compared to 9% of key workers. This is similar to May (where 18% of non-key workers said they had too little work compared to 11% of key workers).

It is perhaps not surprising that key workers are more likely to have too much work through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, given the negative impacts of high workloads on wellbeing, which we discuss in more detail in the ‘wellbeing’ section, this is a cause for concern.

There has been a small decline in the proportion of workers who are struggling to fulfil non-work commitments due to time spent on their job, from 32% in April to 27% in June. However, this is still a notable concern and remains at a higher level than before the pandemic (24% in January).

Health, safety and wellbeing

Physical health

The number of people saying work has a positive or very positive impact on their physical health was 26% in June and 27% in May (this figure was 24% in April, and 26% in January. In other words, we have not seen a continued decline in work having a positive impact on physical health, but we have not seen an improvement either.

In addition, around a quarter of employees said work had a negative impact on their physical health (26% in June and 29% in May, compared to 31% in April and 26% in January).

Those attending their normal workplace were more likely to cite work as having a positive impact on their physical health (28% in June) compared to those working remotely (23% in June). In part, this could be due to those attending their normal place of work experiencing better workplace social connections at the moment – however, other factors will likely be at play. For example, workload is an important influencer of the impact of work on physical, as well as mental health.

Mental health

When it comes to mental health, 34% of respondents in June, and 38% of respondents in May said that work had a positive impact on this. This remains consistent with April, where 34% said that work had a positive impact on mental health. As noted above, this had already fallen from 35% in January, following a steady decline over the past two years.

26% said work had a negative impact on their mental health in May and June. This is similar to January and April where 27% and 28% respectively said work had a negative impact on their mental health.

However, key workers were more likely to say their mental health is negatively affected by work in June (30%) than non-key workers (23%). Further analysis suggests that this impact is largely driven by workload; too much or too little workload negatively affects mental health. Having too much work is especially problematic. And, as we noted in the workload section of this summary, key workers are more likely to say they have too much work that other groups.

Many people with existing health conditions have had these worsened by the pandemic. For example, in June, 61% of those with anxiety said the pandemic had contributed this. And, 56% of people with existing mental health issues prior to lockdown said the pandemic had worsened their mental health.

Also continuing to suffer are social connections at work. 44% in June say these have worsened. This rises to 50% of those who are not attending their normal workplace, compared with 29% of those who are.

Particularly for those whose teams are working remotely, employers should take steps to ensure they facilitate good communication and encourage social connections.

Meanwhile, health and safety concerns are fuelling anxiety about returning to the workplace. 45% of workers in June feel anxious about returning to the workplace, with higher proportions for those with existing health conditions. Further:

  • 35% in June (37% in May) were anxious about commuting to work – this rises to 6-in-10 in London.
  • 21% of those currently going into their normal workplace are not satisfied with the health and safety measures put in place by their employer.
  • 32% of those currently going into their normal workplace were anxious about catching or spreading COVID-19 at work.
  • Only 55% said they’ve been given adequate information about returning to work, with just 44% saying they’d been adequately consulted about returning.
  • Consultation can reduce anxiety about returning to the workplace. 62% of people who didn’t feel adequately consulted are anxious about returning, compared with 42% of people who have been adequately consulted.

On the flipside, many workers are looking forward to returning to their workplace, with around half of those working remotely in agreement. This may be due to struggles with social isolation or a difficult remote working set up.

Employer and line manager response to COVID-19

Positively, a majority of workers are satisfied with their organisation’s response during the pandemic (69%) and agree that their employers have been supportive (67%). Line management, which plays a vital role in supporting employees to do their job effectively, have not suffered decline in quality according to our data. Throughout May and June, almost three-quarters said their manager is supportive if they have a problem and treats them fairly, representing no change since January 2020.

What’s more, 7-in-10 report that their line manager has checked in on their health and wellbeing since the start of the pandemic, with those who are working from home distinctly more likely to say this has been the case (82% compared to 56% of those going into work).

But among the more positive highlights, there is still some room for improvement. A sizeable minority of those attending their normal workplaces (around 2-in-10) say they had not been adequately supported by their employer or are not satisfied with the health and safety measures in place throughout the pandemic.

Taken together with other health and safety fears noted above, as well as anxiety workers feel about returning to the workplace, employers must work more closely with employees to understand and mitigate their concerns.

With the latest government guidelines giving employers wide discretion on where work should take place, employers should take the initiative to consult more widely with employees about their plans. That consultation should include whether work that is being done in the normal workplace could be done remotely – currently, 21% of those attending their normal place of work disagreed that their job couldn’t be done remotely.

Employers should also ensure that the consultation is done adequately with all segments of their workforce, keeping in mind what constitutes ‘adequate’ may differ from person to person. For example, workers with disabilities were more likely to say that they had been adequately consulted about returning (28%) compared with those without a disability (46%).

Consultation can also reduce anxiety about returning to work. Our survey shows those who have been adequately consulted about returning to work are less anxious about doing so. More than three-fifths (62%) of workers who haven’t felt adequately consulted are anxious about returning to the workplace – this drops to 42% for those who have been adequately consulted.

Coronavirus and the workforce

Our data shows a number of key concerns for employees, including work–life balance, wellbeing and job security. That said, employees’ experiences of working during the pandemic differed depending on individual circumstances, with some adapting to working remotely, others furloughed and many still attending their normal places of work.

  • 21% were furloughed – and half of these said they did not know when they’d return to work 
  • Of those still working, 61% were working remotely all the time 
  • 39% were going to their normal workplace for some or all the time 

Flexible working and work–life balance

Maintaining a healthy work–life balance has becoming increasingly challenging, with 3 in 10 finding it hard to fulfil commitments outside of work due to time spent on their job. This figure increases to 4 in 10 for those who are juggling increased caring responsibilities with work. Similarly, those with increased caring responsibilities are more likely to say they are finding it difficult to do their job properly due to other commitments. Ensuring flexible working provision is in place to support working carers is key. Employers need to support employees to work flexibly, to balance work and other commitments. They need to recognise that remote working doesn’t equal flexibility.

  • 30% said their ability to work has been impacted by a change in caring responsibilities since the outbreak.

  • 32% find it difficult to fulfil commitments outside of work due to time spent on their job, compared to 24% in January 2020.

  • This is particularly true for those whose caring responsibilities have increased during the pandemic: 39% of this group reported difficulty fulfilling commitments outside of work because of time spent on their job, compared to 28% of those without increased caring responsibility.

  • 14% of those with increased caring responsibilities said they found it difficult to do their job properly because of commitments outside of work, compared to 7% without increased caring responsibilities.

Job and financial security

Job insecurity is on the rise, with more workers saying it’s likely they’ll lose their job compared to January 2020. Employees are also unlikely to be looking to leave their jobs in the next 12 months, suggesting that job loss or lack of job opportunities is a real concern for workers. 

This is a particular worry for furloughed workers, who face uncertainty about their long-term job security. They are also more likely to report financial concerns, with almost 6 in 10 saying their financial security has become worse since the pandemic. With many furloughed workers having little indication of when they can return to work, employers should stay in touch with furloughed workers and give information about returning when they can, as well as provide financial wellbeing support

  • 22% said it was likely they would lose their job in the next 12 months, compared to just 13% in January 2020.

  • 38% of furloughed workers think it likely they’ll lose their job in the next 12 months.

  • Only 13% of respondents said they’d voluntarily quit their job in the next 12 months.

  • 39% think their financial security has worsened since the COVID-19 outbreak – rising to 57% for furloughed workers.

Health, safety, wellbeing

While there has been a huge increase in homeworking, many are going into their normal workplace. Health, safety and managing the risk of infection should be top priority in these workplaces. Positively, many (58%) said they were able to socially distance at work and had the right protective equipment (61%). However, a significant minority say they don’t have these resources in place. Almost half (47%) are concerned about catching COVID-19 at work, highlighting the importance of consulting with employees on health and safety measures and ensuring workplaces are COVID-safe.

The Good Work Index has tracked mental and physical workplace health since 2018, revealing a steady decline. This trend has continued through the pandemic, and it seems COVID-19 is having a direct impact on mental and physical health: around four in ten workers say their mental and physical health has worsened since the pandemic. Those with existing health conditions are finding this time particularly challenging. Employers and managers need to check in on employee health and wellbeing regularly, and ensure the right support is in place, recognising each individual’s own circumstances.

  • 28% said that work had a negative impact on their mental health. This represents a small increase compared to 27% who said this in January 2020.

  • Similarly, 31% said work had a negative impact on their physical health, up from 26% in January 2020.

  • 43% said their general mental health has worsened since the outbreak, rising to 52% for those with an existing mental health issue.

  • 35% said their general physical health has become worse

Looking ahead

In the coming weeks and months, many organisations will shift their focus on enabling employees to return to the workplace. But many are concerned.

  • 44% are anxious about returning to work, rising to 62% for those with an underlying health condition.
  • 53% with increased caring responsibilities are anxious about returning.
  • 31% of respondents felt anxious about their commute, rising to 52% for those in London.

Flexibility, wellbeing, health and safety are priorities for organisations as they reopen their workplaces. Our findings highlight that it’s imperative to take into account individual circumstances, such as existing health conditions, how people get to work, and care responsibilities. Communication and consultation with staff will be key to ensuring any return to work is safe. The CIPD has also set out three tests for employers before they bring people back to the workplace, and a returning to the workplace planner to help navigate these tests. 

This is a time of rapid change. How employers communicate with and support staff during this will undoubtedly impact job quality, and employees’ trust in their employers.

Top