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Two thirds of young people say work damages their mental health

Polling shared exclusively with Spotlight finds that most workers think their job does them harm.

By Sarah Dawood and Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

More than half of UK workers say their job negatively impacts their mental health, with younger people more likely to be affected, according to research from the employment charity Workwhile shared exclusively with New Statesman Spotlight.

Fifty-seven per cent of respondents said their job negatively impacts their mental health, while 29 per cent said their job had a positive impact on their mental health.

Workwhile, which is supported by the progressive think tank Institute for Public Policy Research, commissioned the polling company Opinium to conduct the research. It took place on 14-16 June 2023 across a sample of 2,077 adults.

Younger respondents were more likely to report negative mental health impacts – 63 per cent of 18-34-year-olds, compared with 59 per cent of 35-49-year-olds, 53 per cent of 50-64-year-olds and just 30 per cent of over-65s.

[See also: Well-being at work is key to growing the economy]

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The research suggests employees also value work-life balance over pay: nearly half (49 per cent) of all respondents said it was more important, while 12 per cent favoured earnings. However, men are more likely than women to prefer higher earnings to a more sustainable balance – 15 per cent compared with 9 per cent – and younger people more than older people – 17 per cent of 18-34-year-olds with 5 per cent of over-65s.

The poll also found that one in five workers (21 per cent) are encouraged to work unpaid overtime, with Londoners facing the most pressure to do so, at 35 per cent. Comparatively, 17 per cent of people in the north of England, 21 per cent in the Midlands, 20 per cent in the south, 16 per cent in Wales, 20 per cent in Scotland and 9 per cent in Northern Ireland said this was the case.

Respondents generally reported fewer good-quality jobs now compared with when they first started working – 40 per cent thought this, while 13 per cent believed the opposite. People in the north of England were the most likely to say there are currently fewer good jobs available.

[See also: The NHS can’t help the mentally ill – can influencers?]

Work is a key influence on people’s health. The Health Foundation reports that spending longer time in low-quality work is associated with worse health outcomes and can trigger stress, which can lead to other medical conditions. Work quality can be measured in many ways, including employment contract types, workplace support, job security and stability, and work-life balance.

Last month, a report from the human resource association Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that job quality has been “in decline for many” people in the past four years. During that time, UK workers have become more likely to think that work is purely transactional, and less likely to say that their work enthuses them, is useful or has a positive impact on their mental health.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that more than 2.5 million people are currently out of work due to long-term sickness, an increase of half a million on pre-pandemic figures. The number of estimated pay-rolled employees was down by 136,000 between March and April 2023. There has also been a rise in back and neck conditions.

Long-term sickness also accounts for more than a quarter – 28 per cent – of total economic inactivity in the UK. Tony Wilson, director at the Institute for Employment Studies, recently told the BBC that people being off work is “bad for business and the economy”, resulting in a lower supply of workers, businesses closing, worse productivity and less business competition.

Workwhile is calling on the government to invest in employees’ mental health by creating a “right to disconnect” law, which would allow workers to switch off more easily, especially when working from home.

The Labour Party has previously said it would introduce this law as part of its employment reforms. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader has said a “right to switch off” would mean that bosses would not be able to contact workers outside of hours by phone or email. Similar legislation was enacted in France in 2017.

[See also: “Take back control” has become “we can’t control”]

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