At the start of the pandemic, as many companies chose to protect their workers by initiating home office policies, there was a concern that they would struggle to adapt and find work/life balance as they transitioned from the office to working from home. Would it be difficult to disconnect as the line between work and personal time blurred, with a desk in the corner of a living room or bedroom? Would there be a sense of obligation to be available for longer hours, do additional work, or check emails after tucking children into bed?

Stress levels didn’t increase over the course of the pandemic

According to Adecco’s ‘Disconnect to Reconnect’ survey, it was found that 45% of workers reported working late and 60% checked emails after business hours. This did not seem to change much from before the pandemic – suggesting workers were already feeling stress and burnout before from working overtime before. If companies knew this, it suggests they were not doing enough in the first place to support their workers’ well-being.

How do people unwind?

Flexible schedules and locations did however make the transition easier from professional to personal life as workers had more control over when they chose to be “off the clock”.

So how did workers choose to disconnect? Without a commute, they devoted their energy to spending more time with family and friends (41%), pursuing hobbies (20%), and focusing on their health (29%).  Workers of all ages prioritised having additional social time with loved ones. Younger workers were more likely to listen to music or exercise in their attempts to disconnect, while older workers enjoyed reading or watching television.

Workers who continued to work at the office during the pandemic struggled more with disconnecting after work and were more likely to feel stress than those who worked from home (24% vs. 17%).

Workers in no rush to return to office

Now there is growing concern that the switch back to the office full-time will hurt morale as workers face adding a commute back into their workday. As they start to return to the office, will they continue to be able to disconnect effectively or will they be forced to abandon their new hobbies, ignore their health, or give up time with family and friends? Almost a third (29%) of workers who worked from the office during the pandemic reported that they are more willing to leave their company in the next two years, so it is reasonable for companies to expect increased turnover in the upcoming months as workers may choose to pursue new opportunities that allow them to retain the freedom offered by flexible schedules and the ability to work at home.

Being able to disconnect from work is vital to workers’ well-being. For companies where returning to the office is inevitable, more wellness initiatives may need to be implemented to ensure that workers can continue to effectively leave their work behind at the end of the day, which should hopefully in turn reduce turnover and lower worker stress.

However, what is also important is how companies perceive their workers mental health challenges, and what support they offer as a result. Companies seemed to not have noticed that before the pandemic workers were equally as stressed out and working longer hours as they were post-pandemic. Whilst the flexibility afforded by working from home has made it easier for workers to disconnect, companies were not and are not doing enough to support their main capital – people.

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