NTT Data UK recently observed a significant increase in people taking time off work for mental health. During England’s first lockdown, as many as 40% of workers cited problems with their mental health as a reason for taking leave.
So, did COVID-19 and strict lockdown rules provoke issues with mental health? Or does this research simply highlight what was already lying underneath the surface?
As well as exploring the findings of NTT Data UK’s research, we will explore COVID’s impact on work performance and mental health.
What did the research find?
Between 23 March to 4 July, NHS Digital carried out research examining “fit notes” issued by GPs during the first lockdown in England. Fit notes are medical opinions by a doctor on a person’s state of health; usually required if an employee has been ill for more than a week.
The research highlighted several unexpected details. For instance, employees took less time off during lockdown compared to the yearly average. Presumably, this is because working from home offers greater freedom than the workplace, such as more time to catch up on sleep due to a lack of commuting.
Primarily, it showed that the number of fit notes given specifically for mental health-related issues rose during lockdown:
- Ultimately, mental health-related issues accounted for 41% of all fit notes during lockdown.
- Beforehand, however, it was only 35% in the preceding twelve months.
What does this mean?
NTT Data UK analysis of the research has indicated that people who were forced to continue working from home were negatively affected by the pandemic and lockdown measures.
Remote or essential workers however were forced to continue working despite significant changes and upheavals brought on by the virus.
Those working in healthcare had to work during the initial surge of the virus. By working under conditions that threatened their physical health and treating patients with debilitating physical health themselves, it would be difficult to ignore the effects on their mental health – such as an increase in anxiety and burnout.
Therefore, with the rising number of mental health-related fit notes given, we can assume that many workers struggled during lockdown to the point they needed time off work for mental health.
Research from Quinyx has further demonstrated that those with a pre-existing mental health problem experienced worse symptoms because of lockdown.
From 38% of the people surveyed said their mental health was negatively affected by their work prior to the pandemic, this figure rose to 52%. Respondents cited it was due to COVID-19.
Without a doubt, worries about the pandemic and the upheaval in people’s daily routines had a negative impact on workers’ mental health.
“These are extraordinary times,’ states Vicki Chauhan, Head of Public Services at NTT DATA UK. “Until we can return to a level of normality, employers must remain conscious of the challenges that remote working poses to mental health, and continue to support their staff as this pandemic evolves.”
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