The changing face of employee happiness

Tuesday 03 November 2020
As the UK faces circuit-breakers and lockdowns, it’s more important than ever to study the trends in employee happiness and satisfaction at work
Woman smiling at work

Through 2020, CMI has worked with WorkL to gather and analyse data on happiness at work. As England faces a second lockdown, and with Wales and Northern Ireland already having implemented short ‘circuit breakers’, we take a look at the most recent findings and what they mean for Britain’s managers.

We surveyed CMI members at three points this year – January/February, March/April, and August/September – and analysed their feelings towards empowerment, information-sharing, instilling pride, job satisfaction, reward and recognition, and wellbeing.

In the initial January/February survey there were clear signs of employee frustration at work. Many people said they didn’t enjoy enough autonomy. Empowerment was the lowest-scoring area in that survey; many managers clearly didn’t feel in control of their workload.

Then came the Coronavirus.

In March and April, everything changed. Despite the huge national health and economic crisis, this seemed to have an invigorating effect for many people. No-one knew what was coming, so no-one was afraid of trying new things.

When we launched the survey in spring, respondents working from home were much happier. That peaked in May, with around 72% of WFH and 64-65% for workplace-based. Many people seemed to feel liberated to be at home, perhaps even working remotely for the first time.

Since then, people have been slightly less happy working from home due in large to two elements that people are missing: one is the sociability of colleagues, the other is career development. The data shows that this is skewed very much towards the younger age brackets of respondents.

The next survey took place in August/September when the highest-scoring areas were ‘instilling pride’ and ‘empowerment’ at 71%. But respondents’ feelings of empowerment fell from 74% in spring. Wellbeing also dropped from 68% in spring to 62% in August. It’s worth noting that, in these latest results, homeworkers’ overall happiness remained significantly higher than on-site workers.

Another area that fell was ‘instilling pride’, which is defined in the survey as work being meaningful, and feeling proud of working for their organization. For all respondents the score was  71, which dropped from to 74 in Apr/May 2020. This score for August was significantly higher than Jan/Feb (66), but significantly lower than springtime. CMI has spoken to many managers who believe that revisiting their organisation’s values and making them more prominent during lockdown helped their employees band together. This could help to boost a sense of pride and meaning during the winter months.

The August results make for stark reading and could help to give guidance as to how managers and organisations need to develop a long-term strategy for those who are working from home. It’s imperative that in the next few months, we see an increase in managers’ happiness, not only for the overall wellbeing of our employees but because this has a positive impact on productivity.

The surveys increasingly show a lowering of scores around wellbeing. This could be driven by a number of things, not just the respondents’ working environments: it’s about job security, and it’s also about the social nature and creativity that comes from work, like going out for lunch with colleagues. As it’s the softer side of work that’s being impacted, it can be more tricky to find a solution. The survey score for home isolation was 52%, which was the same it scored in April/May. Job security scored higher at 68%; for home workers this was 66% and workplace-based employees were at 71%. Given the uncertainty of the long-lasting impact of the pandemic, it’s no surprise these scores aren’t higher. Creating more social opportunities for colleagues to interact with each other could help to mitigate this.

When looking to the future, the majority of respondents want a hybrid working model of 2-3 days at home and 2-3 days in their workplace. CMI has long advocated for flexible working practice to be more widely adopted, and we’re hopeful this is a realistic future for the UK workforce.

Read our article on why flexible working should be a day-one right – and check out how you can be involved with surveys like this by joining our managers voice community.

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