As we approach the first anniversary of lockdown, debate continues to rage on the pros and cons of working from home and how it affects our quality of life. While there has been much positive anecdotal evidence concerning the benefits of working from home, including articles this week advocating the joys of WFB (working from bed), the reality is that this social experiment is still in its early days and emerging on the horizon is a dark cloud of issues concerning employee quality of life and mental wellbeing that will threaten us in the forthcoming months.

This week Chief Executive of BT Philip Jansen joined the ranks of people warning about the toll of lockdown fatigue, having witnessed ‘very, very stark’ signs of stress and mental health concerns amongst his employees. The Martec Group were amongst the first to measure the issue during the first lockdown, finding a significant decline in mental health across all industries, seniority levels, and demographics. The survey identified four different employee groups with emotions ranging from total contentment to complete distress; the thriving, hopeful, discouraged and trapped. Only 16% were thriving employees, whose motivation, job and company satisfaction improved during lockdown. All of the others struggled with mental health, with discouraged and trapped employees representing almost 60%. Recent focus group research by Cushman & Wakefield suggests that this initial assessment remains true; results indicate that WFH fatigue is increasing and respondents did not believe that working remotely represents ‘‘real life’ for the long term’. The research highlighted that ‘lack of in-office work has a disproportionately negative impact on certain workers’ such as young and new employees. Their findings also emphasise the importance of culture and the concern that it will ‘erode over time if people do not return to face-to-face interactions’, not least with the reduced likelihood of team members seeing each other as they work more flexible hours.

Michel Landel, retired CEO of Sodexo, observed prior to the pandemic that ‘quality of life is the next frontier of performance in the workplace to drive people’s engagement’ and he traced a direct line between investment in programmes that centre on quality of life with positive impact on performance, improved sales and enhanced reputation. With job satisfaction and sound mental health in decline as we continue through a third national lockdown, it is time to get serious about employee quality of life. While there are certain things that can be done to enhance the virtual workplace, the hybrid office, combining the best of physical and remote working, is the key.

I’d love to hear your views on this topic as although I’ve been able to adopt a hybrid working pattern by combining working from home and working from our workspaces when necessary, I miss the informal communication and camaraderie from the office. I miss the energy I get interacting with the teams and visiting our workspaces across London. These elements all contribute to my job satisfaction and ultimately, quality of life.

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