The UK’s general state of wellbeing has improved in the past year but, as a nation, we’re still more stressed and anxious than we were before the pandemic, the latest government figures have suggested.
The survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that average ratings of personal wellbeing in the UK improved across all indicators in the year ending March 2022.
However, they still remain below pre-pandemic levels, by comparison to the year ending March 2019.
Average ratings for anxiety (a 0.18 point decrease), life satisfaction (a 0.15 point increase), and happiness (a 0.13 point increase) showed the largest year-on-year improvements since the ONS started measuring wellbeing, it said.
This followed the, perhaps unsurprising, biggest deterioration in all wellbeing scores reported in the year ending March 2021, or during the pandemic.
The proportion of people reporting very high levels of life satisfaction, feeling things done in life are worthwhile, happiness or very low levels of anxiety increased in the year ending March 2022, said the ONS.
By comparison, the proportion of people reporting low levels of life satisfaction, feeling the things done in life are worthwhile, happiness or high levels of anxiety decreased.
Wellbeing and happiness
Average ratings for life satisfaction improved for England, Wales and Northern Ireland compared with the previous year – the largest improvement (a 0.16 point increase) being in England.
Average ratings of feeling that the things done in life are worthwhile increased (improved) by 0.07 points in England (from 7.71 in the previous year to 7.78 in the latest year). The increases seen in other UK countries were not statistically significant, the ONS highlighted.
Average ratings for happiness improved for England and Wales, with the largest improvement (a 0.14 point increase) being in England.
Average ratings for anxiety improved across all four countries compared with the previous year, with the largest decrease (a 0.26 point decrease) being in Northern Ireland.
Figures don’t match what employers are seeing
However, some employee wellbeing specialists said the ONS personal wellbeing survey findings did not appear to match the feedback they were getting from workplaces in terms of general levels of wellbeing, satisfaction and happiness.
For example, Carla Hoppe, founder of employee wellbeing firm Wealthbrite, said in response: “This data doesn’t tally with what we’re seeing on the ground. In our experience, there has been a steady downward trend in happiness and satisfaction since the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Rates of burnout, anxiety and stress are up and now, with the cost of living soaring, we are walking into a national wellbeing crisis,” she added.
Chris Mooney, learning and development consultant at CM Learning, agreed the cost of living crisis – which only really began to ratchet up outside the period the ONS looked at – needed to be factored into the equation.
“As the cost of living crisis weighs down on us, so, too, does the financial and mental stress that many are silently carrying,” he said.
“Employers must show support through meaningful action, rather than simply pay lip service. Managers should be put on courses that enhance their emotional intelligence, empathy and the skills needed to spot the signs of stress and provide support when it’s needed, rather than when it’s too late,” Mooney added.
Desiree Silverstone, a psychotherapist at Head Honchos Executive Coaching, said: “Mental health is still too often seen as a taboo topic and should be discussed more openly in order to break the stigma surrounding it. In the workplace, mental health can often be overlooked or ignored. This needs to change.
“Companies need to create a culture that is more open and accepting of mental health issues. Progress has been made but in many of my coaching sessions people speak about being scared of letting others know how they are feeling. This is a fear that needs to be addressed,” she added.