New data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics shows that one in five adults in Britain experienced depressive symptoms in early 2021, more than double the proportion before the pandemic. Young adults are coping with a significant increase of mental health issues. Financial concerns, managing children in the household, and disabilities are some of the factors that have a significant negative impact on mental health.

And this is not just a UK trend. According to Forrester’s PandemicEX surveys, about 40% of European employees believe that “When I think about the current situation of our world and society, I think it is terrible and I feel it is never going to get better,” and only one in five say that young people today will have a better life than their parents. European employees are not only less optimistic about the future but are also facing a growing trust crisis. Forrester’s PandemicEX survey data shows that employees across Europe:

  • Feel their firms aren’t prioritising their safety. Between March 2020 and March 2021, the number of European employees who believe that their employers put their health and well-being first when making decisions about the risk of coronavirus has significantly decreased. In fact, one in three Europeans worry that their companies will insist that they go back to work before they feel safe.
  • Trust their employers less today than they did a year ago. When it comes to communication about the pandemic, for example, European employees consider communications from their CEO and the executive team, as well as from their direct managers, to be less trustworthy than they previously were.
  • Are less confident sharing medical data than they were pre-pandemic. Employees have also grown less confident about the ability of their companies to handle their medical data securely and responsibly. In fact, today, fewer are comfortable sharing their personal and medical data with their employers.

Employee Well-Being And The New Normal: Navigate The Risks Of A Trust Crisis In The Workplace

As employers prepare to welcome back employees into their premises and design new flexible work policies, they must consider that some of their choices not only might be unhelpful to their workforce but — even more alarming — they might be increasing stress, anxiety, and contributing to further erode employees’ trust. Whatever shape their “new normal” is taking, employers must:

  • Avoid workplace discrimination based on age, gender, or health status. As employers design new flexible policies and make decisions on who can work on certain conditions and who cannot, they must avoid setting up policies that apply to any section of their workforce on the basis of older age, race, or apparent disabilities. Many disabilities are invisible. The most physically able employee may not fit any age- or gender-based stereotypes of a healthy individual, and vice versa. Such bias-prone decisions will lead to further loss of trust among the workforce and the loss of experienced employees. A discriminatory workplace can be a top deterrent against attracting new talent as conditions improve.
  • Mind the privacy and ethical gaps of leveraging vaccine passports. Employers that are considering leveraging vaccine passports or registries to determine who can reenter the workplace and how must be aware that they are exposing those who can’t or don’t want to get a vaccine. Employees who don’t carry proof of vaccination might suffer from other medical conditions such as allergies or have religious or political beliefs for refusing the vaccine. They have the right to keep this information to themselves. Investigating why an employee doesn’t want to carry proof of vaccination creates huge trust issues and liabilities. Do not do it. The application of a policy such as “no jab, no job” can also carry significant ethical challenges. It would be easy for other employees to single out individuals, increasing the risk of discrimination and stress. Maintain flexible work-from-home policies if possible, or allow employees to take time off if they prefer to avoid coming back to the workplace. Finally, proactively dispel potential concerns about job loss or penalisation in connection with refusal to get vaccinated or carry a vaccine passport.
  • Support employees that face a “reentry syndrome.” Not every employee is looking forward to entering the new normal, and even those who are ready might experience challenges. Psychologists are warning of a reverse culture or “reentry syndrome” as employees grapple with reconnecting with colleagues and going back to no-longer-familiar workplaces. Many employees will return to the workplace already burned out, as their work and home life may have blended into one over the past year, with family responsibilities significantly increased. Loss of productivity will likely occur. Hard workforce monitoring and pressure to improve performance will increase stress level and will show employees that you don’t trust them. Flexible working options will provide a gradual transition to allow employees to settle in and iron out any issues. Employers must also communicate frequently, with empathy and clarity, and create confidential, professional channels that employees can use to receive guidance and advice as needed.

The new normal we are about to experience in our workplaces comes with risks to our mental and physical well-being that no employers can afford to underestimate. For more guidance and advice on how to optimise your employee experience strategy as you return to the workplace, watch our complimentary on-demand webinar: The Future Workplace.