Workers’ Uncertainty about Returning to Offices Contributes to Mental Health Decline

LifeWorks, a provider of technology-enabled total wellbeing solutions, released its monthly Mental Health Index report, revealing a negative mental-health score among Americans for the 15th consecutive month.

The Mental Health Index  score in June reached -4.5 compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark, which is the highest point since the inception of the index in April 2020, when the mental-health score was -8.0.

In June, the research found that while many organizations have begun implementing return-to-workplace strategies, a significant portion of Americans require clearer communication on office reopening plans. One in five (20 percent) Americans are unclear of their employer’s plan for work going forward, while another eight percent do not believe their employer has a plan.

These groups also reported the lowest mental-health scores (-12.5 and -11.5, respectively) when compared to employees stating their employer’s plan is clear. When reviewing employees’ expectations about the return to the workplace:

  • Almost half (48 percent) expect that their employer will want all employees working in their pre-pandemic environment
  • 13 percent believe that their employer will allow remote work to continue
  • 11 percent expect to work onsite at their office at least part of the time; and
  • Only four percent expect to have the flexibility to choose their work location

“American employees have faced several workplace transitions throughout the pandemic, with many now settled in their flexible and hybrid environments. With economic recovery on the horizon, however, the anticipation of the return to the physical office may leave many Americans feeling unsettled,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “Prioritizing employee wellbeing across hybrid, physical and remote environments is critical to long-term success. As we look to the next phase in workplace reopening initiatives, organizations need to equip employees with knowledge and accessibility to resources to help them cope with change.”

In April 2021, half (50 percent) of Americans reported that vaccination against COVID-19 or reaching herd immunity would most improve their outlook for the future. In June 2021, the research found those who report being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have the most favorable mental-health score (-2.7). The least favorable score (-16.5) is seen among those who are partially vaccinated. This group also showed the worst isolation score (-27.0), followed by those who are not vaccinated but intend to be (-11.5).

The full American Mental Health Index report can be found here. This month, the report includes additional insights on the mental strain faced by post-secondary students, how children have been impacted by the pandemic, and more.