Employees are becoming increasingly emotionally remote

Boundaries between work and home life are becoming increasingly blurred

More than half (52%) of UK employees agree that the boundaries between their work and home life are becoming increasingly blurred, according to the latest research by Aviva.

Aviva’s new report - ‘Embracing the Age of Ambiguity’ - explores the impact that ambiguity is having on key areas of working life, from wellbeing and work-life balance to employee-employer relationships. Research carried out in February 2020 took a snapshot of working life then. This was repeated in August and, together with Business Wellbeing Specialists, Robertson Cooper, we examined the impact on work and society more broadly.

‘Employee drift’

The report reveals employees are becoming not just physically remote but increasingly emotionally remote too. While 54% of UK employees agree that their employer has worked hard to create a sense of ‘company togetherness’, embracing an open dialogue and communicating future working arrangements (60% of employees agree), efforts are having a limited impact. Only 15% agree that their employer is trying very hard to understand what motivates them.

This is challenging workers’ sense of purpose and their relationship with their employer has shifted, fuelled by less focus on job satisfaction. This creates ‘employee drift’, making it harder for employers to attract and retain the best and brightest in their workforce and capture new talent.

Impact on physical and mental health

Crucially, declining satisfaction for their job is impacting on mental health. Two in five (43%) employees describe their wellbeing as being less than good, and more than a third (34%) said they did carry on working even when they felt unwell.  At the same time, just a quarter (26%) of employees agree that their employer is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing.

Employees are adapting by dropping into survival mode. In August, 25% felt they were unprepared financially for unexpected events, such as serious illness, accident, or redundancy. Yet, heightened anxiety has led to employees working longer hours and taking fewer sick days over a three-month period (67% in February vs. 84% in August), all the while becoming less fulfilled by work and life. This is one of the reasons that employees at Aviva have access to mental health, domestic abuse and wellness support and an assistance line for anyone needing to talk to someone.

Paul Wilson, CMO, Aviva UK Life, Savings & Retirement, commented: “We are living in an ‘Age of Ambiguity’. The balance between work and home life; employment and retirement; and the relationship between employers and employees are becoming increasingly fluid. While some welcome flexibility, for many others it creates unease and uncertainty.

“We are encouraging employers to embrace the ‘Age of Ambiguity’ in supporting their workforce with their mental health, physical and financial wellbeing. To do so Aviva has created a list of Employer Considerations to help businesses navigate the impact of uncertainty on employee wellbeing and engagement.

“After all, people are the number one asset of any business and, by providing them with targeted support, their contribution will be more valuable than ever before.”

Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE, Co-founder of Robertson Cooper and 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, Alliance Manchester Business School:

“As an academic, author and adviser, I’ve been promoting the importance of mental health and wellbeing at work for over 50 years and have noted the impact that ambiguity and uncertainty has on health, wellbeing and performance. Levels of uncertainty for employees have ebbed and flowed during my career, but this year has been different.  

“Undoubtedly this includes a shift in the relationship between employers and their employees. A new partnership is required. One that recognises the immense challenges to employee wellbeing, as well as the need for more a personalised approach. We all have different personalities, different ways of dealing with pressure and different needs – knowledge is growing in this area.”

Aviva believes that the first step to better supporting employees is joining the conversation. By engaging in the debate on working through the ‘Age of Ambiguity’ with industry peers, businesses can share experiences and best practice solutions. By speaking directly to employees, they can try to uncover and address individual concerns.

Following this, Aviva has made a series of recommendations that will help employers reset relationships with employees (please get in touch for the full report, which includes the recommendations in full).

  1. Understand how they can deliver on emerging flexibility needs
  2. Personalise mental health and wellbeing support
  3. Maintain sense of purpose, clarity and autonomy in the workplace
  4. Prepare workers for fuller working lives and the transition from work to retirement
  5. Create more targeted interventions by understanding personality types
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