Mental Wellbeing of UK Workers

Our recent research using our proprietary Workplace Mental Wellbeing Audit has revealed that two thirds of workers have struggled with their mental health to some degree in 2020, and there are mixed feelings over enforced working from home.

Key findings
  • Just 28% of those who struggled with their mental health have taken time off work for it
  • 91% want to continue working from home in some capacity in future – despite 26% admitting their mental wellbeing has decreased as a result of WFH during lockdown
  • 25% feel that working from home for the next 6 months will negatively impact their mental wellbeing
  • Over a fifth (22%) of workers are not offered anything by their employer to support mental wellbeing
Experiences of poor mental health

Two-thirds (62%) of UK workers admit they have struggled with their mental health to some degree* over the last year, with more over 50s reporting this than last year, according to new insight from Opinium.

Sixty-two per cent of workers aged 50 years and over state they struggled with their mental health – an increase from 54% in 2019. Meanwhile fewer younger workers have reported struggling with their mental health, with 63% of 18 to 24 year olds reporting this, compared to 73% last year.

The impact on work

Despite the majority of workers struggling with their mental health to some degree, less people are taking time off work as a result. A third (36%) took time off work for mental health reasons in 2019, but this has fallen to 28% this year. The main reason for this is because it wasn’t bad enough to require a day off (35% – up from 26% in 2019), because they wanted to keep it to themselves (33% – up from 30%) or that they don’t feel it’s a valid reason (25% – down from 28%).

Worryingly, among those that did take time off, over half (57%) felt guilty, 48% felt under pressure to return to work too early, and 34% weren’t supported when they did come back. However, 46% did say the quality of their work improved after taking some time off, 35% felt much better after they had returned, and 44% said their employer had a clear process to help them return.

Are employers doing enough?

Since last year, more workplaces have taken steps to support employees with their mental wellbeing, and 49% now have policies, programmes and/or processes in place to look after employee mental wellbeing (up from 35% in 2019). Furthermore, 72% of employees (excluding sole traders) feel supported by the employer in terms of mental wellbeing.

More than half (54%) of employees now perceive their workplace to be taking staff mental wellbeing seriously (up from 44%), and 57% feel their colleagues would be supportive if they were struggling with their mental health (up from 49%). Indeed, there has been an increase in the number of those who opened up to someone at work about their mental health (39% this year vs. 30% in 2019). This increase is largely driven by 18 to 24 year olds, with 51% of those struggling speaking to someone at work – compared to 28% of over 50s.

However, a third (32%) of workers feel their current workplace is not doing enough to support employee mental wellbeing, and 36% wouldn’t know who to turn to in the office if they were struggling. Sadly, two in five (40%) would feel embarrassed if their colleagues discovered they were struggling with their mental health.

Initiatives in place

The most commonly offered initiatives to aid mental wellbeing in the workplace are:

  • Information about mental health and techniques to improve wellbeing (27%)
  • Space for people to take breaks at lunch (e.g. staff canteen, break-out spaces) (27%)
  • Access to a counsellor (24%)
  • Flexible working hours (24%)

Yet over a fifth (22%) of workers are not offered anything by their employer to support their mental wellbeing.

Employees want to remain working from home post-Covid

The vast majority (91%) of those currently working from home (WFH) would like to continue to do so in some capacity once the lockdown restrictions are over. Two-fifths (40%) want to WFH full time – rising from 28% when this was first asked in July. A third (36%) would like to WFH a few days each week, 11% want to WFH once a week and just 4% would like to do this less often than that.

However, Opinium’s insight shows working from home more often could have a detrimental impact on long-term mental health for some. While 31% feel WFH has increased their mental wellbeing, over a quarter (26%) now say it has decreased – an increase from 24% who said the same in July.

Furthermore, WFH has taken its toll on an increasing number of workers in the last two months, with 43% struggling to build in time to go outside during the day (up from 35% in July), and 36% working longer hours then when they were in the workplace (up from 30%). In addition, 38% feel more isolated (up from 35%) and 28% say their stress levels have increased (up from 25%). Three in ten (30%) are worried about the impact prolonged working from home will have on my mental health.

Though many are also enjoying the benefits of working from home, 59% feel they have a better work life balance and 63% feel more relaxed, while 55% think that not having to commute has improved their mental health.

Working from home for the next six months

On the whole, those who are currently working from home feel positive about the Government’s recent announcement that they should continue to work from home if they can, possibly for the next six months. Two thirds (67%) feel relaxed about the prospect, 65% feel happy, 64% feel optimistic and 60% feel relieved. On the other hand, 28% are concerned and 22% feel anxious and pessimistic.

Encouragingly, almost three in ten (29%) think that six more months of home working would improve their mental wellbeing, and 44% do not think it would have any impact on their mental health. However, a quarter (25%) think it would decrease their mental wellbeing.

Returning to the office

When it comes to returning to the office, office workers are becoming less concerned about hygiene and health and safety factors, and more concerned about losing free time and commuting:

General hygiene of the office35%39%
Losing the free time gained WfH34%30%
Logistics of social distancing of desks29%37%
Busy commutes29%25%
Having to use public transport to get to work23%19%

Sophie Holland, Senior research executive at Opinium: “Over the past year we have seen employers step up and make changes in their organisations to improve mental wellbeing, and this is being noticed by employees too. However, the pandemic has added an extra level of stress that has affected people’s mental health in different ways. Working from home in particular has both negatively and positively impacted mental wellbeing for office workers, and this is something employers need to be mindful of in the months to come, as we could all be working from home a while longer yet. An individualistic approach is vital in supporting employee wellbeing in the months to come”

If you’re interested in understanding how our workplace mental wellbeing audit can help improve mental wellbeing in your organisation, then please email, our employee engagement team would love to chat!

Sample details: Opinium Research carried out online surveys of 1,008 UK workers aged 18+ 24th June to 13th July 2020, and 1,237 UK workers aged 18+ from 25th to 29 September 2020. Results have been weighted to representative criteria.

*struggling with mental health to some degrees includes: stress, burnout/ exhaustion, anxiety, depression, feeling down or low, panic attacks and ‘other mental health problems’