Supporting you during lockdown

Working from home gives us freedoms we never had before. We can exercise when we want to. Cook up proper meals instead of dashing out to get a sandwich. And we can spend more time with family.

In fact, more than half of the people surveyed say they prefer working from home to being in the office.1

But for many it can stir feelings of unease and uncertainty as the lines between work and home become increasingly blurred.

Earlier this year a company called Quadrangle interviewed 2,000 employees about this very phenomenon and published a report on our behalf called The Age of Ambiguity.

The good news is that 54% agreed that their employers had worked hard to create a sense of ‘togetherness’.

Yet, despite this, another independent report created by Panacea Advisers in July revealed that 38% of advisers agreed that Covid had had a serious impact on their mental health. While 10% admitted to being ‘vulnerable’ due to their age and pre-existing conditions like diabetes, asthma and cancer.

The impact on daily life

Indeed many of the advisers surveyed by Panacea found themselves working much longer hours to cope with staff illness and anxious clients, with work drifting into evenings and weekends; finding it ‘hard to focus’.

During the first lockdown one adviser spent 40 hours a week to help a client with dementia with whom they had power of attorney. And of course, those looking after children were particularly affected due to home schooling. Some, especially those living on their own, admitted they were suffering from loneliness.

Financial impact

20% also claimed to have been affected financially, with stories ranging from pay cuts to complete loss of income. The self-employed were particularly hard hit due to lack of support† from the government, with new-business an issue for many because of the inability to meet clients face-to-face.

Amongst the general working population, 25% said they were ‘unprepared financially’ and 78% are convinced they’ll have to work for longer to save for retirement.1

Mental health is an issue at any time

According to another report conducted before the pandemic, 92% of the workforce have experienced some form of mental illness. While three in five employers (61%) told us they felt stress-related illness would the biggest occupational health concern in 2019. Little did they know what lay ahead.

If we take a close look at the Ambiguity Survey, which looked at 2,000 employees in February and then again in August of this year, we can see a number of trends developing due to Covid.

In August 43% of employees described their wellbeing as being less than good (up from 38% in February). Yet, worryingly 84% said that they would carry on working even if they felt unwell.  In fact, workers are taking less sick days now than in February due to fears about work security. 

Levels of satisfaction at work have also dipped with just 27% agreeing that they ‘really enjoy’ their work in August (versus 34% in February).

Mental health is a concern for all of us, especially in these times. So, what can we do? Both in terms of our own personal health but for those around us.

Spot the signs

First of all, it’s vital to take note of how you’re feeling:

  • Feeling stressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Back or neck ache
  • Trouble coping mentally
  • Anxiety/palpitations

If you think you tick off two or more of the above then it’s worth taking a few notes from the experts. Debbie Bullock, Wellbeing lead at Aviva, has given us a few ideas that might help.

Do reach out

As the saying goes, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.

12% of advisers said they had reached out for practical and financial support from various organisations, from mortgage providers to government for bounce-back loans and grants, while most shared their more personal concerns with friends and family.

Evidence shows that only 4% talk to HR and 12% with colleagues, though 74% of employees believe the stigma associated with mental health issues is rapidly disappearing.

The trick is to open up to someone if you’re not feeling 100%.

Derek Bradley, CEO of Panacea Adviser says, “Most advisers are dealing with a lot of stress at the moment. Men in particular find it hard to talk about how they are feeling, which isn’t healthy. The more we can talk in times of crisis, the better for everyone concerned.”

Debbie Bullock adds “If you’re not feeling great talk to those close to you or failing that your GP or a charity. After all, we’re all in this together. You’re not alone.”

Set up a coffee hour online

If you’re in a position to influence company culture, it’s a good idea to set up a coffee hour or lunch online. That way issues can be raised informally, with less pressure.

Appoint some mental health first aiders

You might also want to appoint a few ‘mental health first aiders’. The more empathetic members of the team can watch out for any tell-tale signs of depression. There are plenty of online training courses available.

Create a work-space

Try to create a space that’s calm and ordered, away from distractions. Though if you don’t have the luxury of sitting behind a closed door then noise-cancelling earphones can work wonders.

Get dressed every day

Comfort is king, after all who’s watching, but do resist the temptation to spend the day in your dressing gown. And don’t take your laptop to bed.

Plan your time

Plan your day in the morning so you have a sense of achievement when you finally turn off your computer. And by off we mean ‘off’. Creating boundaries between work and leisure is vital.

Also, tackle the most important tasks early in the day. That way you’ll feel a sense of relief as the day progresses.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about ‘living in the moment’, whether that’s taking a walk or cooking a meal from scratch.

There are plenty of hints and tips online. All you have to do is find one that suits you. Start small and build from there.

Switch off the television

If you’re working home alone it helps to have ambient noise in the background but stick to the radio. Not the TV.

Don’t be inflexible

That said, don’t worry about sticking to 9 to 5 – especially if you have children at home during the day – relish the fact no one’s watching the clock.

Whatever you do, don’t tie yourself to your laptop. Give yourself a break - regularly. For the sake of your health and your state of mind.

Go outside every day

This comment was voiced by many, “You finish working, then it’s straight on to cooking, and you go to bed. There seems to be nothing else going on, apart from work.”

The antidote is thankfully very simple. Fresh air and exercise. They’re proven to reduce depression and anxiety. They’re also a great excuse for getting away from your computer screen.

Regular breaks are vital for your neck, back and your eyesight and can help lift your mood.

Debbie Bullock says: “One of the best antidotes to lockdown is to get outside and exercise. If you don’t have a garden then a local park is always a good idea. Sleep and rest are also vital as well as good nutrition. The simple things really.

For more information about how we’re supporting advisers during the pandemic, please visit our Covid-19 hub.

Sources:

1. Aviva Age of Ambiguity Report, published February and August 2020 (before and after lockdown) by Quadrangle

2. Aviva Vulnerability Survey, July 2020 by Panacea 

3. Aviva 2019 Health of the Workplace Report

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