SURVEY: Stress and a tsunami of mental health explodes the ‘days off’ working from home myth

There were more than a few who raised an eyebrow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim that people working from home in a pandemic were having ‘days off.’

If you’ve been working in public sector communications since the pandemic started you’ll be especially disapproving and data would support you.

A bumper 78 per cent of people said they were more stressed working since pre-COVID days in the latest tracker survey I ran in January and February.

Often, people will be working from home with a managed return to the office still some distance away.

But what other numbers shine through?

Stress is levelling off. Almost eight out of 10 reported feeling more stress working as public sector communicators than before the start of the first lockdown. That’s the same figure as October.

Mental health is suffering. In the survey, 73 per cent said their mental health had deteriorated since the start of the pandemic – a decline of eight per cent since the question was asked in October.

Isolation is increasing. In the first two months of the year, 55 per cent reported feeling more isolated compared to 34 per cent in the summer.

Physical health is suffering. Restrictions on exercise and team sport were the backdrop to 57 per cent of public sector comms people saying this was their experience – seven per cent worse than the last round of the survey in October.

Verbal and racial abuse is easing but significant. A total of 12 per cent saw racist abuse down by four points while verbal abuse has eased two points to 19 per cent.

A feeling of working for the common good remains. Encouragingly, 76 per cent still feel as though they were working for a higher purpose which is almost unchanged since the summer and autumn surveys.

Feeling part of history remains. In the first weeks of the first lockdown there was a sense of the momentous and this has stayed the course unchanged at 36 per cent.

What do these figures say?

It’s clear that the pandemic has been the opposite of ‘days off’ to public sector communicators near the sharp end. They may not be working directly on COVID wards but they have not had an easy ride.

Less visible than nurses and carers, NHS, local government, central government, police and fire communicators have fought a spare room frontline working in conditions less than ideal.

They deserve credit not being dismissed.

More than 400 people took part in the third round of an online tracker survey of public sector communicators in January and February. Earlier iterations had taken place in June and July and September and October. The next round of polling will take place in April.

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