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American employees and employers may not fully agree on flexibility in the post-pandemic workplace

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Corporate / Mental Health / United States

American employees and employers may not fully agree on flexibility in the post-pandemic workplace

LifeWorks’ Mental Health Index™ shows that psychological health is worse now than at any point during the pandemic

CHICAGO, April 22, 2021 – LifeWorks, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, revealing a negative mental health score among Americans for the twelfth consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for March is -6.8. Negative scores indicate a lower level of mental health compared to the pre-2020 benchmark.

The March score is more than one full point lower than February (-5.2). At the one-year mark, while the majority of sub-scores have fluctuated throughout the pandemic, the score for psychological health has significantly declined over the last 12 months, decreasing from +2.1 in April 2020 to +0.2 in March 2021. The score for psychological health is worse now than any prior point in the pandemic (second lowest was reported at +1.2 in December 2020), indicating that Americans’ view of their overall mental health status is at its lowest point.

“The pandemic has changed the lives of so many Americans, inflicting drastic shifts in routine that are likely to remain long after the virus is behind us,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “The long-term ramifications of this go far beyond the physical change in routine that the pandemic has introduced. One year into the pandemic, what is most concerning is the emotional toll that Americans are experiencing. Looking ahead, success will be defined by employers who support, show recognition and pay closer attention to the wellbeing of their employees.”

Employees need increased flexibility in post-pandemic workplace
The return to the physical office in the post-pandemic landscape is uncertain, with increased focus on whether flexibility in the workplace is here to stay. While nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of employees want flexibility to work from home once the pandemic is over, close to one-third (28 percent) of employees reported that they do not believe their employer will support remote work. Demonstrating the importance of flexibility, the research found that individuals expecting mandatory remote work (-11.2) and individuals who do not expect to be provided with the choice (-8.1) reported the lowest mental health scores, when compared to individuals that expect a flexible work structure (-5.3). This indicates heightened importance for employers to listen to employees and adjust policies to meet their needs.

“The topic that has been on everyone’s mind since the start of the pandemic, and particularly in recent months, is the return to work and what the post-pandemic office will look like,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing. “While various organizations have announced their commitment to a flexible workplace following the pandemic, the majority of employers are still undecided on their future plans. If there is one thing that we have learned throughout the pandemic, it is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will support all employees’ needs. Our data is telling us that strong organizational culture relies on flexibility, and it’s critical that organizations make this their first priority when establishing return-to-work plans.”

Parents reluctant to access physical and mental healthcare due to changing workplace situations
Rising case counts and ongoing fluctuation between remote and in-person classroom policies continue to affect parents’ mental health at a significantly higher rate than non-parents, with the group among those experiencing the greatest decline in mental wellbeing throughout the past year. The research found that in March, the mental health score of Americans without children (-4.9) was more than five full points higher than those with children (-12.0 for one child, -10.6 for two children and -11.7 for three or more children).

At the one-year mark, changes in the workplace are also contributing to parents’ declining wellbeing. The research found that parents were 75 percent more likely than non-parents to report being less willing to access physical healthcare and over twice as likely to report being less willing to access mental healthcare. When analyzing the reason for not accessing care, parents were close to three times as likely to report that their access to healthcare has changed due to their financial, work or insurance situation, when compared to non-parents. This is also affecting inner-workplace dynamics, with parents close to 50 percent more likely to report worsened relationships with their managers.

About the Mental Health Index
The monthly survey by LifeWorks was conducted through an online survey from February 17 to March 1, 2021, with 5,000 respondents in the United States. All respondents reside in the United States and were employed within the last six months. The data has been statistically weighted to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect this population. The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018, 2019. Click here to read the U.S. Mental Health Index™ report.

About LifeWorks
LifeWorks is a leading provider of technology-enabled HR services that deliver an integrated approach to employee wellbeing through our cloud-based platform. Our focus is providing world-class solutions to our clients to support the mental, physical, social, and financial wellbeing of their people. By improving lives, we improve business. Our approach spans services in employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement consulting, actuarial and investment services. LifeWorks employs approximately 6,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in more than 160 countries. For more information, visit


Heather MacDonald

Angela Pinzon
Kaiser & Partners