- According to new research, 70% of surveyed employees say that working from home is having a positive impact on their mental health.
- Commuting time and workplace conflict were cited as key reasons for wanting to work remotely some or all the time.
- What workers want the most—and what contributes the most to their personal wellbeing—is choice over where and how to work.
Lifeworks’ latest Mental Health Index found that workers who have the option to work from home at least some of the time report better mental health vs their in-office peers.
70% of surveyed employees indicated that working from home has had a positive impact on their mental health; while the 41% of workers that report their job cannot be done from home have the lowest mental health scores (-5.4), the report found.
The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018, 2019. The latest index found that the overall mental health score had reached its highest point since the launch of the index in April of last year. While overall mental health is improving, the index found that optimism levels experienced decline from June to July 2021.
“From April 2021, the optimism scores have improved meaningfully and in June 2021 (-2.7), the score was approaching the pre-2020 benchmark. In July 2021, a decline of 0.7-points is observed to -3.4.”
The decline in optimism is likely due to the uncertainty created by the surge in Delta variant cases.
The Ideal Work Arrangement for Optimal Mental Health
There is no one-size-fits-all ideal work situation.
The index found that nearly equal amounts of workers want to work at the worksite full-time, part-time, or work from home full-time. But some key differences were observed between men and women, and parent and non-parents.
- 33% of women would prefer to work from home part-time compared to 26% of men.
- 39% of men would prefer to work from the worksite full-time compared to 31% of women.
- A nearly equal proportion of women (36%) and men (35%) would like to work from home full-time.
- People without children are 35% more likely than parents to indicate that full-time at the worksite would be their ideal work situation.
- Parents are 30% more likely than non-parents to indicate that working from home full-time would be their ideal work situation.
Commuting time and workplace conflict were cited as key reasons for wanting to work remotely some or all the time.
Interestingly, approximately 80% of people who worked in a closed office, a dedicated open workspace, or an undedicated open workspace before the pandemic report that their ideal work situation is to work from home part-time or full-time.
Those with undedicated workstations stand to benefit the most from working from home. Lifeworks found that workers with undedicated open workspaces have poorer mental health (-9.9) than people who work from home (-5.0), those who split their time between their home and the worksite (-4.7), and those with a closed office (-2.8).
What does this data mean for return to office plans?
It means organizations need to talk to their employees and understand their individual situation.
Simply having the option to work remotely can have a huge impact on mental health and having a flexible return to work strategy can contribute to cultivating an organizational culture that supports wellbeing.
Supporting Personal Wellbeing Through Organizational Culture
Unsurprisingly, the report found that organizations that support personal wellbeing have people with better mental health. The good news is that 69% of workers report that the culture of their organization supports their personal wellbeing.
However, organizations need to do more for women.
Women were 35% more likely than men to report that their organization’s culture does not support their personal wellbeing. Women were also more likely than men to report they wanted to work from home to prioritize their personal wellbeing.
Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer at Lifeworks said:
“Today, employee wellbeing goes beyond the workplace to holistically encompass personal, emotional and social elements. While employers have gained unique visibility into employees’ personal lives and priorities over the last 16 months, many employees continue to experience increased mental strain in both professional and personal environments. As employer support becomes increasingly important, it is critical for organizations to offer personal support and empathy to employees that extends beyond workplace walls.”
Return to Office and Vaccination
Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president at Lifeworks, said that “despite many workplaces preparing to return to in-person operations, many employees across the country are stressed about their safety at the office. Organizations now have a critical responsibility to evaluate their reopening approach and communicate safety guidelines to employees effectively and thoroughly, understanding that employees’ physical and mental health are closely connected and need to be prioritized equally.”
Vaccine mandates seem to be a source of division among employees.
The index found that a nearly equal number of workers want mandated vaccination (44%) as those who do not want to mandate vaccination (40%). Managers are more likely than non-managers to want mandatory vaccination for employees to return to the workplace.
Workers Want Choice
The differences in preference the index found regarding work situation and vaccine mandates shows that what workers want the most—and what contributes the most to their personal wellbeing—is choice.
Choice to work wherever suits them best; choice to decide whether or not they get the vaccine; and choice over how they allocate their work time.