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Employee optimism remains high — despite declining work-life balance

Employee optimism is still high, not in spite of, but because of the pandemic.

Allie Nawrat


Credit: Brad Neathery via Tweny20.

A new employee survey shows job optimism remains high. Unleash Your People

  • Employee optimism is still high, not in spite of, but because of the pandemic, according to a global survey by ADPRI.
  • However, this is coupled with concerns about job insecurity, which has pushed employees to work longer hours and take on more work.
  • How can employers better support their employees to better balance their work and personal lives?

Despite feelings of uncertainty, workers remain optimistic about the future of work over the next five years, according to research by ADP’s Research Institute (ADPRI)

For its ‘People at Work 2021’ report, ADPRI surveyed 32,000 workers from 17 countries across the world and found that 86% felt optimistic; this was down 6% from January 2020.

Employee optimism in the workplace is not in spite of COVID-19, but actually because of it. Employees believe the pandemic will have a net positive impact over the next three years. This is because it has brought greater flexibility to work and created opportunities for upskilling.

In 2020, only 26% of employees told ADPRI that they felt empowered to take advantage of flexible working arrangements – this skyrocketed to 67% this year. This was helped by one in six saying that their employer had provided them with the necessary equipment to work remotely.

To further future proof their careers, one in seven also noted that they were actively considering moving to a new job in a different industry that they thought would perform well in the future.

[Read more: COVID-19 didn’t dampen job satisfaction – here’s why]


The biggest drop in optimism between 2020 and 2021 was in the 18 to 24 age group – from 93% to 83% — whereas optimism actually rose by a few percent for the over 55s.

This is not surprising since Generation Z has been first in line for job cuts – with two in five saying they lost their jobs, were furloughed, or suffered temporary layoffs in the past year.

Credit: ADPRI.

There wasn’t just an age split in terms of workplace optimism – there was also a division between genders.

ADPRI’s report found that stress management was a bigger issue for women than men in all regions surveyed except in the Asia Pacific region. This is not surprising given studies show that women took on more of the burden of childcare and homeschooling.

In addition, ADPRI’s study showed that women were less confident than men in their abilities to find a new job or receive a bonus or pay rise for taking on extra responsibility at work.


Despite general optimism about the future of work, there were growing concerns about job security – with 85% of workers noting they felt concerned about job or financial security. This is hardly surprisingly given the world currently has the highest unemployment rate in the 21st century.

The knock-on effect of this uncertainty caused 76% of respondents to take on extra tasks, assume heavier workloads, and work longer hours. Unpaid overtime grew from 7.3 hours a week in 2020 to 9.2 hours in 2021, while 87% of workers felt they were forced to compromise between work and personal time.

ADPRI notes that employers need to take note of this trend. As well as thinking about how to compensate workers for this extra work, companies also need to prioritize reassuring their staff that their jobs are not at risk and ensuring their employees have a proper work-life balance.

Ultimately, tackling stress and burnout head on is of benefit to employers – remember happy employees are productive ones.

ADPRI concluded in the report: “While employers grapple with the economic and commercial headwinds, issues around worker confidence and job security, workplace conditions, pay and performance, mobility and gender and family concerns will continue to significantly impact the world of work and the people within it.”

“Even once the pandemic has played out, the ripple effect is likely to continue to be felt for many months and years to come.”

[Read more: Employees must have the right to disconnect from work, says UK union]

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