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Pandemic has left us more positive about the health benefits of work – but less so among younger people

21 October 2021

The pandemic has left the public significantly more positive about the mental and physical health benefits of paid work, the latest British Social Attitudes survey has revealed.

Amid increased job insecurity and unprecedented changes to working arrangements, more people than ever think paid work is ‘very good’ for people’s health.

People are more positive about the health benefits of work…

In the survey, by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), 41% said that paid work is ‘very good’ for people’s mental health, an increase from 26% before the pandemic.

Despite the health risks posed by the virus itself, 27% of people now think that paid work is ‘very good’ for people’s physical health, up from 17% before the pandemic.

But the enthusiasm of younger workers is lagging behind

18-24 year olds, among the hardest hit by the crisis, were already more sceptical about the health benefits of work before the pandemic, and are now even less likely to be very positive when compared to older age groups.

Those aged 18-24 are now by some margin the least likely to say work is ‘very good’ for people’s health. Around a quarter (23%) of 18-24 year olds think work is very good for mental health (up from 17% pre-pandemic), compared with as many as half (51%) of over 60s (up from 28% of 60-64s and 26% of 65+ pre-pandemic).

14% of the youngest workers (up from 8% pre-pandemic) think working is ‘very good’ for physical health, compared with 27% of all adults and 34% of over 60s (up from 17% and 19% respectively pre-pandemic).

Home working has shifted expectations of flexibility from employers

Across the workforce, there are signs of changing attitudes - 68% of people now think employers should allow a phased return to work from sickness, compared with 55% in 2019, and 59% say employers should allow an employee with a health condition to work from home, compared with 51% pre-pandemic

82% who started working from home during the pandemic now think employees with health conditions should be allowed to work from home, compared with 51% who have always travelled to work.

People aged 18-35 have become markedly more likely to say employers should provide flexibility for people with health conditions at work. Support for employers allowing employees to work part-time increased since 2019 by 12 percentage points among those aged 18-34, compared with a 4-point rise among those aged 35-54 and 2-point increase amongst those aged 55+.

Gillian Prior, Deputy Chief Executive at the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), said: “Paid work is strongly connected with health and wellbeing in the eyes of the public, perhaps more than ever since the pandemic. As the government considers making flexible working the default approach for employers and individuals in the UK, this research provides a clear signal that the public, and younger generations in particular, increasingly demand working arrangements that support the health and wellbeing of employees.”

ENDS

For more information please contact:

Oliver Paynel, Media and Communications Officer
National Centre for Social Research
t: 0207 549 9550, m: 07734 960 071, e: oliver.paynel@natcen.ac.uk

Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications
National Centre for Social Research
t: 0207 549 8504, e: katie.crabb@natcen.ac.uk

Notes to editors

1. The National Centre for Social Research, Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (www.natcen.ac.uk).

2. The survey questions reported in this press release were asked with the support of the Department for Work and Pensions. The views expressed in the report and press release are those of the report authors and editors alone.

3. British Social Attitudes: the 38th Report will be published on 21st October 2021 and freely available at www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk. The editors are Elizabeth Clery, Susan Reid and John Curtice.

4. NatCen’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey has been conducted annually since 1983. Each year the survey asks around 3,000 people what it's like to live in Britain and what they think about how Britain is run. Since 1983 more than 100,000 people have taken part in the survey.

5. The 2020 BSA survey consisted of 3964 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain. Previously conducted face-to-face by interviewers, this year’s survey was completed online by a sample of respondents who were invited at random by post. This change brings a risk that differences in attitudes between BSA 2020 and earlier years may be a consequence of the change of methodology. However, the 2020 data have been carefully weighted to ensure this risk has been minimised. For more information visit www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk.

18-24 year olds, among the hardest hit by the crisis, were already more sceptical about the health benefits of work before the pandemic, and are now even less likely to be very positive when compared to older age groups.

Those aged 18-24 are now by some margin the least likely to say work is ‘very good’ for people’s health. Around a quarter (23%) of 18-24 year olds think work is very good for mental health (up from 17% pre-pandemic), compared with as many as half (51%) of over 60s (up from 28% of 60-64s and 26[OP1] % of 65+ pre-pandemic).[OP2] 

14% of the youngest workers (up from 8% pre-pandemic) think working is ‘very good’ for physical health, compared with 27% of all adults and 34% of over 60s (up from 17% and 19% respectively pre-pandemic).

Home working has shifted expectations of flexibility from employers…

Across the workforce, there are signs of changing attitudes - 68% of people now think employers should allow a phased return to work from sickness, compared with 55% in 2019, and 59% say employers should allow an employee with a health condition to work from home, compared with 51% pre-pandemic.


 [OP1]Changed % to match table in report

 [OP2]NB Esther, sentences have been reordered (mental health first, physical health second)