Average ratings of wellbeing deteriorated across all indicators in the year ending March 2021, the Office for National Statistics has announced.
HR specialist XpertHR described the findings as “bleak” but put the decline down to the enduring effects of the coronavirus crisis. Noelle Murphy, senior HR practice editor at XpertHR said the figures underlined how employers needed to factor in workers’ welfare and wellbeing for all business decisions or risk losing their most valued employees.
The ONS said the most recent annual declines in personal wellbeing in the UK were the steepest it had ever monitored. Personal wellbeing for life satisfaction declined by 0.27 points, anxiety increased by 0.26 points, and happiness by 0.17 points. The feeling that the things done in life are worthwhile showed a 0.15 point decline.
The ONS found that anxiety increased in all regions of the UK compared with the previous period apart from Northern Ireland and the North East, with the largest increases being in the West Midlands (0.44 point increase) and the North West (0.38 point increase). And only in the North East and the East Midlands did ratings of happiness hold up compared with the previous year: in all regions it decreased with the West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber having the largest falls.
Life satisfaction feelings declined in all regions and average ratings of feeling that “things done in life” are worthwhile declined in all countries and regions of the UK apart from the North East, with the largest decrease being in the South East (0.19 point decrease).
Citing the two national lockdowns and multiple restrictions over the year, Murphy added: “It is bleak, but perhaps unsurprising that people’s wellbeing has taken a hit over the last year.
“Many were contending with financial strain due to furlough or simply being unable to work. Others were dealing with working from home overnight, often while juggling caring responsibilities, or home-schooling without access to the usual support from friends and family.
“Those who were shielding or living with clinically extremely vulnerable persons had to deal with the ongoing isolation and stringent restrictions. Not only this, but everyone was dealing with the sustained anxiety around the coronavirus and surviving a pandemic.
Murphy said how employers responded during the “stressful” period would have an “ongoing impact on how current staff and potential candidates view them”.
She added: “Putting employees’ welfare and wellbeing at the centre of the business response will give those employees who are thinking of moving on pause for thought. Those who failed to do so have felt it in staff turnover, and will continue to do so as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Employers must continue to keep the focus on employees’ wellbeing and welfare – failing to do so during this transitionary period when people still have ongoing anxieties could result in a significant hit on talent retention.
“As such, companies should learn from the lessons lockdowns gave and note which compassionate approaches worked to stave off poor wellbeing, from adjusting hours for working parents to offering benefits to tackle mental health. It’s vital that businesses take these learnings and build a more supportive environment going forward.”
Murphy said the Christmas lockdown in 2020 was particularly damaging to people’s sense of wellbeing: “The ONS study was conducted 12 months into the pandemic in what was a very turbulent and uncertain time. The last minute Christmas lockdown was testament to that; a decision which turned many people’s plans completely upside-down. It meant a lot of employees missed out on spending time with family and friends, and such social interaction is crucial to an individual’s overall wellbeing.”
She said economic uncertainty was a key factor for many people’s low mood. “A general sense of unease can follow an intense period such as this, and would certainly have been felt amongst employees in the early stages of 2021. On top of this, the ongoing economic uncertainty felt by many will have fed into people’s poor wellbeing, such as those who did not qualify for Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and not least those facing redundancy.”