Furlough, remote working and childcare: What has been the impact on workers' mental health during lockdown?

Written by Anna Bishop
Dec 15, 2020

Anna is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest health emergency of our time. It has brought many unfamiliar aspects to our lives such as social distancing, lockdowns, restrictions on socialising and how often we can see our families. In the workplace, we’ve also had the job retention scheme, while many have had to adapt to new ways of working remotely and home-schooling still fills some parents with a sense of dread. In this blog article, we look at the impact on mental wellbeing during the pandemic from the perspective of 3 different types of employees.


The furloughed employee

As of November 15, 2020, approximately 9.6 million jobs, from 1.2 million different employers were furloughed in the UK as part of the government's job retention scheme. Whilst many people viewed being on furlough as a welcome rest from work, being furloughed has had a huge impact on mental wellbeing. Being in work, whether in person or remotely, provides a routine, and without this, it’s easy for a person to feel that they are missing purpose and motivation from their lives. Mental health charity Mind state that “In the short-term people may have financial concerns due to their income being reduced or have longer-term fears of being made redundant.”

Professor Dame Carol Black added “Mental health tends to deteriorate when people lose their sense of social purpose. This sentiment may become more prevalent among people who are on furlough schemes where they may feel that they are kept out of work artificially or face delayed unemployment.”

Without daily contact with their colleagues, furloughed employees are more likely to experience loneliness and isolation. With the coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions limiting leisure activities, employees in these circumstances are often left with additional time to think about the potential problems associated furlough. They may have not had access to work emails and company communications, making them feel left behind and further isolated. With 14.7% of people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace, an increasing amount of time spent at home may exacerbate existing mental health conditions or cause a new mental health concern.

The remote worker

A survey by Nuffield Health found that 80% of workers in the UK felt that working from home has negatively impacted their mental health. It also found that not being with colleagues has left 25% of employees feeling lonely and isolated. Remote working can present a challenge to maintain the same level of communication many people are used to when in work. Too many online meetings can lead to people feeling like they must make increased emotional effort and the intense focus on words and eye contact can be exhausting, with 19% feeling pressured to perform during online meetings.

Many employees also have problems setting and maintaining a schedule to help them keep track of time during the working day, 27% of people said that they have difficulties in switching off at the end of the day or working week. A report by recruitment organisation Robert Walters found that 47% of managers view their employees as being at risk of burnout because of the changes to working patterns and behaviours during the pandemic. The report also identified that 87% of employees who began to work remotely during the pandemic felt the need to be highly productive to strengthen the case for remote working after the pandemic is over.

The parent juggling childcare and work

Parenting itself can be challenging at the best of times, and the pandemic has meant that many children are isolating from school and other childcare settings, leaving parents to juggle work responsibilities whilst simultaneously looking after their children and assisting with their education. Research by the CIPD found that since the start of pandemic, 30% of people said that their ability to work has been impacted by a change in caring responsibilities.

Over half (54%) of parents with children under 18 said that looking after children or family members in the home made their mental health worse. With the coronavirus restrictions limiting many children’s activities, there may be additional challenges of different routines and lack of social contact which can also impact behaviour. Dympna Cunnane, CEO of Our Time said “The numbers of adults with mental health issues has risen dramatically. Parents with a mental illness already struggle to keep their emotional balance but the pandemic will have exacerbated their symptoms. Many parents who were just about able to cope have been pushed over the edge.”

The support you need

Balancing life at work and home can be extremely difficult and it’s important that everyone has the access to the right support. Our free mental health and coronavirus online training course has been designed using the British Red Cross’ experience of helping people cope with crises. Our short and easy to access online training is aimed at those who may be finding isolation challenging during the Covid-19 restrictions, are experiencing loneliness, anxiety or stress, or are simply struggling with furlough or working from home.


Topics: Mental health & wellbeing

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