Impact of coronavirus: “deskless workers” mental health under strain


Erik Fjellborg, CEO – Quinyx

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New research reveals the impact coronavirus is having on the mental health of the UK’s deskless workers*. The research indicates that a pre-existing mental health issue among deskless workers is being made worse as a result of the pandemic.

Prior to the outbreak, 38% of deskless workers said that their job had negatively impacted their mental health in the last twelve months. Since the outbreak, more than half of respondents (52%) say that coronavirus has made this worse**.

Potential contributing factors vary depending on whether a worker has been classed as essential or non-essential during the pandemic. According to the research, sectors with more essential than non-essential deskless workers include warehousing, shipping, healthcare and transportation. For instance, 84% of respondents in the healthcare sector identified themselves as essential workers, compared to just 21% of those in the hospitality sector.

For the essential deskless workers polled – who have continued to go to work during the crisis – longer hours seem to be having a negative impact. Prior to the pandemic, 37% of deskless workers who said their job had negatively impacted their mental health over the past 12 months said being expected to work extremely long hours was a contributing factor. In the current crisis, essential workers are three and a half times more likely than non-essential workers to be taking on more than 40 hours of work a week. Unsurprisingly, long working hours are having the biggest impact on deskless essential workers in healthcare, with over a quarter (26%) reporting having to work over 40 hours a week***.

For non-essential deskless workers, reduction in pay or loss of sales appears to be a contributing factor. Prior to the outbreak, 43% of deskless workers who said their job had negatively impacted their mental health over the past 12 months, said that low pay was one of the biggest reasons and 20% of them said they experienced stress because they were not getting as many shifts as they would like. Since the outbreak, more than three-quarters (77%) of non-essential deskless workers have been impacted in this way, with 39% reporting cuts to pay or hours and 38% saying they have been furloughed.

For non-essential deskless workers, who are more likely to have been furloughed than essential workers (38% compared to 4%), job security could also be playing a part. Non-essential deskless workers are less likely than essential workers to be planning to or know if they will stay in their jobs long term (1-3 years; 50% compared to 65%). They are also slightly more likely to think that their employer does not value the work they do. Not feeling appreciated was identified as a key reason for poor mental health in relation to work by 53% of deskless workers prior to Covid-19.

Against a backdrop of significant hygiene and safety concerns and childcare challenges, a lack of flexibility at work and poor employee communications could also be contributing factors for some workers. The research found that deskless workers in the sectors that have experienced the biggest declines in mental health – shipping & distribution (56% of deskless workers say they have experienced a decline) and warehousing (57%) – are also most likely to say that their employer has not offered greater or enough flexibility during the crisis or provided them with clear communications on company policies related to Covid-19.

The research also found that many employers have not provided frontline workers with the training and direction they need to effectively do their job during the crisis – as cited by 39% of essential deskless workers. This could be due to a number of factors, including challenges around keeping up with fast-evolving government guidelines.

Erik Fjellborg, founder and CEO at Quinyx said: ‘’Deskless workers have been critical in the UK’s response to managing coronavirus on the frontline. They have been working hard to keep us safe and healthy and have made sure that we have access to essential supplies. They will continue to play an important role as the UK moves into a recovery phase. It is vital that employers are doing all they can to protect and support deskless workers’ mental health.

‘’For many employers of deskless workers in the current context, their hands are tied when it comes to pay and hours. But there are things they can do to continue to support their workers through these challenging times. Our research found that over a fifth of deskless workers want more flexible working during the crisis and that feeling appreciated for their work is important for their mental health. By building greater flexibility into schedules and keeping channels of communication open to all employees, employers can show deskless workers that they value them, while finding new ways of working that work for them.’’



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