Almost a third (30%) of UK office workers are experiencing stress over their personal appearance, according to a new survey from business technology firm Adaptavist Group.
This is double the number of those anxious about potential layoffs (15%).
Almost half (46%) of respondents said increasing workloads was their top concern, followed by their personal appearance (30%) and having less time for family or personal commitments (28%).
Rebecca Mian, head of HR at not-for-profit healthcare provider Benenden Health, said the rise in video calls and shared screen time since the pandemic was to blame.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “We know from our own team that people feel self-conscious about seeing themselves on screen, with employees revealing this through our health and wellbeing and mental health first aider groups.
“As such, we have shared tips internally including how you can turn your own screens off so that you don’t have to stare at yourself and can focus on colleagues instead.”
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Petra Velzeboer, a psychotherapist, said social media is also having a negative impact on people’s mental health.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “No longer are we simply comparing ourselves with our neighbours, but with people from all corners of the world, assuming everyone else has it figured out and we are the only ones lagging behind.
“Our perceptions of ourselves on screens, the use of appearance-altering filters, and relentless advertising geared towards enhancing our looks are all contributing factors to our growing unease.
“We’ve also simply fallen out of practice when it comes to small talk and in-person discussions, which can lead to overthinking and anxiety.”
Since the pandemic, many people have fallen out of positive health and wellness routines, Velzeboer said.
She said: “Naturally, we’ve become more sedentary or turned to comfort food to weather the difficult times.
“Now, as we’ve re-emerged into the world of work, many of us are comparing ourselves to others.
“We’re finding it harder to establish the necessary boundaries and routines to become healthy and confident once again.”
HR teams can help with appearance worries in several ways, Mian said, including setting dress codes.
She said: “Most companies have dress down policies in place, particularly on remote working days, and I would encourage any company that doesn’t to consider implementing one.
“At Benenden Health, we call ours ‘dress for your day’ so people have a personal choice based on whether they have any formal meetings and also what the weather is doing.
“When people feel comfortable in what they are wearing and what they look like, this usually boosts confidence and makes people feel good, which can help to reduce feelings of anxiety.”
Mian also recommended introducing opportunities for employees to undertake positive habits together.
She added: “For example, HR could introduce walking or running groups to help with employees’ physical health; exercising and getting outdoors is great for our mental wellbeing too.
“Businesses can also look at the benefits they offer and consider including discounted gym memberships or providing a healthcare and wellbeing package.”
The mental wellbeing of the HR team is vital too, she said: “I’m a strong advocate for leading by example. I’ve noticed that many HR professionals recommend resources to others but don’t use them themselves.
“They believe they must appear to have everything under control because people turn to them in distress.
“I’d like to see more human honesty and a commitment to empowering others and ourselves to take positive steps to invest in our health, which will have a knock on effect of boosting our confidence in this new world of work.”