Employers are being urged to prioritise staff wellbeing as a new survey has revealed working from home leaves people struggling with ‘excessive workloads’ and poor regulation of their personal time.

The impact of Covid has led to significant shifts in workers’ wellbeing with more than a third (37%) of those working from home saying they find it hard to relax because of their job, the annual industry survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Scotland has found.

The Working Lives Scotland report found that the pandemic has exposed deep differences in job quality across the Scottish workforce, by measuring five key dimensions of fair work: respect, security, opportunity, fulfilment and effective voice. 

It found that homeworkers – just over half of all Scottish employees at the time of the survey – have seen some benefits, but also drawbacks to the changes in ways of working. While homeworkers, paradoxically, report better relationships at work and are more positive about employee voice compared with those not working from home at all, they report poorer work-life balance and excessive workloads.

Of those fully working from home, 37% say they find it hard to relax in their personal time because of their job, compared with 23% of those not working from home at all. And 40% of those fully working from home report excessive workloads, compared with 31% for those not working from home at all. 

While overall job quality in Scotland has surprisingly been unaffected by the pandemic, it continues to fall short on several key measures. The report highlights that concerns remain over issues like wellbeing, job autonomy and skills mismatch across the Scottish workforce. For example, it finds that 26% of employees feel their work impacts negatively on their mental health. 

Alongside an analysis of five fair work dimensions, Working Lives Scotland, CIPD Scotland’s annual flagship report, offers a timely exploration of job quality for key workers, homeworkers and those on furlough. It provides evidence for policy-makers and HR practitioners allowing them to make informed decisions as firms emerge from the pandemic. 

Though the report shows that those who can work from home would like to continue working from home at least some of the time, 43% of Scots are in jobs that can’t be done from home. It identifies persistent and significant gaps in flexible working availability – something that employers will need to address if they are to avoid creating a two-tier workforce of those who can and can’t work from home. Options like flexi-time, job sharing or compressed hours need to become available more widely. 

Lee Ann Panglea, Head of CIPD Scotland and Northern Ireland, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “The last 15 months have been extraordinary for all of us, but especially for the HR profession. Our profession has been front and centre of navigating huge people and organisational challenges across Scotland.” 

“As we look towards the ‘new normal’, we must all learn the lessons from the pandemic and ensure that it is a catalyst for positive change. Employers need to keep wellbeing top of their agenda and should be considering flexible working options beyond homeworking, like flexi-time, job sharing or compressed hours if they want to retain and attract employees.” 

“Fair work and good people practice should be central to achieving inclusive growth and improving job quality and productivity for all employees and employers. Working Lives Scotland 2021 provides further evidence around some of the challenges, gaps, but also opportunities for progress.” 

The report’s author, Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser at CIPD Scotland, said:  “Our report shows that some of the concerns many had about a deterioration of relationships at work, mental health or employee voice during the pandemic have not materialised. Investing in better people management, before or during the pandemic, coupled with a focus on communication and wellbeing, seems to have protected employees against some of the potential negative impact of the pandemic on working lives.” 

“However, we continue to see concerning findings around the impact of work on wellbeing, challenges around work-life balance, or significant job design differences. This does not have to be inevitable – all jobs have the potential to be better.”