1 in 3 people say return-to-office negatively impacted mental health


Roughly 1 in 3 workers back in the workplace said the return-to-office shift negatively impacted their mental health, according to a June McKinsey survey of 1,602 employed people.

Workers who experienced declines in their mental health were five times more likely to report taking on reduced responsibility at work. Meanwhile, another 1 in 3 workers said going back to an office had a positive impact on their mental health, with the primary benefit being they feel more engaged upon their return.

But negative responses to return-to-work plans, along with a now rising number of Covid cases due to the contagious delta variant, are complicating employers’ plans to bring workers back to the office in the fall.

And leaders will need to work quickly to address the rising challenges of their returned workforce and support those who are expected to come back soon: nearly half of workers still remote but scheduled to return anticipate negative mental health impacts associated with the transition, such as anxiety and depression, the McKinsey report finds.

The biggest concerns

What could reduce stress

Stressed-out workers say additional time off, flexible work schedules and hybrid work arrangements would help them feel more supported in their return-to-office transition.

Authors of the McKinsey report also recommend employers address workers’ concerns about safety and flexibility directly.

On the health and safety front, the McKinsey researchers say leaders can require regular Covid or antibody testing, social distancing and mask wearing. If they share a building with other employers, they also need to know what other organizations are doing in the workplace and share those details with employees transparently, Stueland adds. In recent weeks, more employers have started to require workers show proof of vaccination, or be subject to regular testing, in order to return to the office.

Instead of mandating a blanket return, McKinsey researchers recommend employers create flexible and hybrid work options and let employees figure out what will work best for them, with the expectation that they can adjust as needed during the pandemic and beyond.

On-site accommodations will have to change, too, Stueland says, such as providing more backup child-care options for working parents, better hybrid-work technology to manage teams, or on-site mental health providers and time to make use of them.

Return-to-work raises concerns of equity

Leaders should also be thinking how their return-to-work plans impact diversity, equity and inclusion.

Stueland says employees who opt in to a voluntary return to the workplace are more likely to be younger men who don’t have children.

“Then you have a concern of equity,” Stueuland says. “Now we have a group back in the office every day, but how do we ensure they’re including employees still at home? Are people who are back going to adopt new practices or leave people at home behind?”

The McKinsey report also showed parents are more likely to experience stress and concern about whether taking advantage of flexible or hybrid work could negatively impact their careers.

But a blanket remote-only workplace may not be a win for equity either, Stueland says, particularly among people who live in smaller spaces and lack quiet or privacy at home and would benefit from returning to a formal workplace.

Role of leaders to model new expectations

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