· 2 min read · News

UK workers become 'zombies' as morale slumps


Mass redundancies in the pandemic have had a huge impact on the effort employees are now willing to put into their work, leaving morale at an all time low.

Even before mass redundancies, approximately a third (34%) of 2,000 workers in the UK confessed that they would be ‘just going through the motions’ at work, according to outplacement firm Randstad Risesmart UK.

New data from January shows that figure has increased to more than half (54%), and employees who have retained their jobs feel overwhelmed.

Simon Lyle, UK managing director of Randstad Risesmart, said that the majority of people left in organisations after pandemic-related layoffs are just treading water and have become ‘zombies’.

Businesses planned around 800,000 redundancies last year, and in December the Office of National Statistics said the number of employees on payrolls had fallen by 819,000 since the start of the pandemic.

Lyle said: “This means the UK is now blighted by hordes of ‘zombie’ employees who have been left reeling after picking up the extra work previously handled by now departed colleagues.

“These staff are lingering in the twilight zone of employment, neither recovering their mojo for work nor dropping out to seek jobs elsewhere.”

Speaking to HR magazine, Rebecca Monk, HR director at IT infrastructure and services provider Softcat, said it’s inevitable that employees will be affected by a lack of morale and engagement.

She said: “Employers simply can’t expect productivity to remain as high as pre-pandemic levels.

“One thing that HR teams can do though, in conjunction with business leaders and internal communications teams, is to ensure transparent and timely employee communication.”

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Minimising uncertainty can help to boost morale and emotional wellbeing, Monk added.

She said: “My advice would be to communicate clearly and frequently, letting employees know as much as possible about any potential impacts on the company and their roles.”

Sophie Forrest, founder and managing director of HR support company ForrestHR, also suggested a lack of employee motivation could stem from a fear of losing their job.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Employees lacking enthusiasm and underperforming out of fear of redundancy presents a real challenge for employers and HR managers.”

While businesses may need to scale back during the pandemic, they still need teams to be motivated.

Forrest said organisations that navigate this challenge most successfully are typically those that are open with staff.

“Communication from the top down has to effectively provide information that makes employees feel as involved as possible," she said.

“Successful organisations also provide additional support for their staff, such as counselling or careers advice or coaching, to assist them with both the practical and emotional challenges they are facing."