Flexible Work, Autonomy, and Burnout: Exploring UK Work-Life Balance in 2021


October 19, 2021

Key Findings

  • The Office for National Statistics, Softcat, and Arm top our list of highest-rated companies for work-life balance in 2021.
  • For the third year running, tech is rated the #1 industry for work-life balance, while hospitality and retail, which have traditionally had fewer opportunities for remote or flexible working, continue to rank the lowest. 
  • Discussion of mental health in Glassdoor reviews has increased over 500 percent in the past three years, while mentions of wellbeing have grown sharply (a 58 percent increase) since the pandemic began. Talk of burnout has notably increased over this past summer, jumping 128 percent since April 2021.
  • Employees who rate their companies as providing a stronger work-life balance are significantly more likely to mention flexible working and wellbeing in their reviews, while those with a lower work-life balance are more likely to discuss burnout.

What does work-life balance mean in 2021? The COVID-19 pandemic has blurred the lines between our homes and working lives. Companies and their workforces have been forced to adapt to this new normal, and as a result, the concept of work-life balance has evolved. Glassdoor data reveals the key issues for employees around this topic and highlights the companies who are successfully helping their workers to juggle their lives at home and work. 

Companies Leading in Work-Life Balance in the UK

To conduct this research, we analysed more than 600,000 reviews left by full-time UK-based employees between January 1, 2021 and September 28, 2021. We first looked at individual company ratings for work-life balance, as shown in Table 1 below. 

Table 1: 20 Highest-Rated Companies for Work-Life Balance in 2021 in the UK

RankingCompany NameAverage Work-Life Balance RatingIndustry
1Office for National Statistics4.58Government
2Softcat4.48Tech
3Arm4.47Tech
4Sky Betting & Gaming4.46Tech
5Mastercard4.45Finance
6Bank of England4.42Government
7Dell Technologies4.41Tech
8FirstPort4.39Real Estate
9Sage4.34Tech
10SAP4.33Tech
11Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs4.32Government
12Anglian Water4.30Oil, Gas, Energy & Utilities
13Radius Payment Solutions4.27Telecommunications
14Cisco Systems4.26Tech
15Google4.24Tech
16The Very Group4.24Retail
17Barratt Developments4.22Construction, Repair & Maintenance
18Salesforce4.22Tech
19npower4.21Oil, Gas, Energy & Utilities
20Nationwide Building Society4.19Finance
Note: Only companies with over 50 work-life balance ratings between January 1, 2021 and September 28, 2021 are included.
Source: Glassdoor Economic Research (www.glassdoor.com/research)

36% of employee reviews for the Office of National Statistics, the top company on our list, praise the company’s flexible working policy, while 10% positively mention their work-life balance. Employees of the other top companies call out similar policies at their own workplaces, emphasizing the freedom and autonomy to set their own schedules as being key to a healthy balance. 

The reviews commend Sky Betting & Gaming’s focus on wellbeing from its long-running wellbeing programme alongside employees’ flexible work schedules at Dell Technologies. Sage has implemented additional holidays to give employees a chance to recharge alongside a ‘How to Thrive’ toolkit to support employees’ wellbeing, while workers at Softcat specifically praise their ‘people first’ culture and part-time and job-share options are available. At Arm, employees have access to a workplace mental health app that has bitesize materials and exercises from productivity to sleep stories, are encouraged to use workdays to volunteer and are offered four extra ‘Day of Care’ holidays each year. One employee of Anglian Water praises the “new ways of working that COVID has created,” echoing the reviews left by many other employees of our top 20 companies when they write, “I can see this flexibility has really opened doors for creative thinking.” 

Tech is the most represented industry on the list, with nearly half of the companies (9 of 20) falling into this category. The others range across a variety of industries including government, construction, real estate, telecommunications, finance, and energy, demonstrating to job seekers that an ideal work-life balance can be found anywhere.

COVID’s Impact on Work-Life Balance by Industry

In addition to our analysis of individual companies, we looked at the average work-life balance rating by industry. Glassdoor reviews across 2021 were compared to those from the same time period (January 1 to September 28) in 2018 and 2019. We did not consider 2020 as the pandemic began well into the new year and would skew the pre-pandemic trends.

Table 2 below shows the industries ranking highest for work-life balance in 2018, 2019 and 2021, while Table 3 demonstrates the lowest-rated industries. Unsurprisingly, tech tops the list each year, showing that its historic dominance in this arena has translated well during the pandemic, thanks to its flat, non-hierarchical management structure, long-standing flexible work policies, and ability to complete most work with little need for in-office equipment. The aerospace and defense industry has improved notably each year, rising from the bottom of the top ten list in 2018 to the second-place spot in 2021. 

Government and non-profits have undergone the largest change, jumping up from their previous positions at nos. 16 and 14 in 2019 (not shown in the below table), respectively, to reach the nos. 8 and 10 spots in the top ten list in 2021. Like tech, many jobs in these industries offered flexible working and work-from-home options even before the pandemic, which may have allowed them a smoother transition once the COVID crisis hit.

The five lowest-rated industries, on the other hand, have seen little change, with the restaurants, arts, retail, and travel & tourism sectors represented in all three years. These four industries are characterised by their relatively high proportion of in-person jobs and fixed shift schedules, with less remote work, flexibility or autonomy seemingly available.

Table 2: 10 Highest-Rated Industries for Work-Life Balance in the UK 

Year201820192021
RankingIndustryAverage Work-Life Balance RatingIndustryAverage Work-Life Balance RatingIndustryAverage Work-Life Balance Rating
1Tech3.86Tech3.90Tech3.95
2Oil, Gas, Energy & Utilities3.79Oil, Gas, Energy & Utilities3.80Aerospace & Defense3.89
3Media3.72Aerospace & Defense3.78Media3.80
4Insurance3.71Consumer Services3.78Education3.78
5Business Services3.70Insurance3.74Telecommunications3.76
6Finance3.67Telecommunications3.71Finance3.76
7Aerospace & Defense3.66Finance3.70Insurance3.71
8Telecommunications3.64Business Services3.69Government3.71
9Real Estate3.62Media3.68Oil, Gas, Energy & Utilities3.70
10Construction, Repair & Maintenance3.59Construction, Repair & Maintenance3.66Non-Profit3.68
Source: Glassdoor Economic Research (www.glassdoor.com/research)

Table 3: 5 Lowest-Rated Industries for Work-Life Balance in the UK 

Year201820192021
RankingIndustryAverage Work-Life Balance RatingIndustryAverage Work-Life Balance RatingIndustryAverage Work-Life Balance Rating
1Restaurants, Bars & Food Services2.86Restaurants, Bars & Food Services2.91Restaurants, Bars & Food Services3.05
2Arts, Entertainment & Recreation3.15Retail3.16Retail3.27
3Retail3.16Arts, Entertainment & Recreation3.19Travel & Tourism3.30
4Manufacturing3.32Travel & Tourism3.29Transportation & Logistics3.31
5Travel & Tourism3.36Transportation & Logistics3.40Arts, Entertainment & Recreation3.32
Source: Glassdoor Economic Research (www.glassdoor.com/research)

The Increasing Importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing to Employees

To dig deeper into the data, we looked at the incidence of keywords such as ‘mental health,’ ‘burnout,’ ‘wellbeing,’ ‘flexible working,’ and ‘work-life balance’ in reviews left by full-time UK-based employees between January 1, 2018 and September 28, 2021. 

Chart 1, below, shows the percentage of reviews that discuss mental health or wellbeing in this time period, while Chart 2 shows the same for burnout. The grey areas indicate periods of lockdown in the UK.

Looking specifically at the terms mental health, wellbeing and burnout, it is clear that discussions around all have increased, although each has followed a different pattern. Mentions of mental health have steadily increased over this entire time period, seemingly unrelated to the pandemic, from a low of 0.26 percent of all reviews in January of 2018 to its recent high of 1.68 percent, a more than 500 percent increase! 

Discussions of wellbeing saw a rapid increase immediately following the first lockdown and has continued this pattern, spiking during periods of lockdown. Overall, it has remained consistently high since the start of COVID-19 restrictions, appearing in a high of 1.83 percent of reviews (in January 2021) as compared to 1.16 percent immediately prior to the pandemic, a 58 percent increase.

Finally, talk of burnout, which did not increase notably before April 2021 when it appeared in just 0.07 percent of all reviews, began increasing sharply this summer, reaching its current figure of 0.16 percent (a 128 percent increase) in September 2021, indicating that many employees have recently begun experiencing feelings of burnout that their employers have failed to address. 

Chart 1: Percentage of Glassdoor Reviews Discussing Wellbeing & Mental Health

Chart 2: Percentage of Glassdoor Reviews Discussing Burnout

Employers Who Provide a Strong Work-Life Balance Value Flexibility and Wellbeing

To go one step further, we looked at the correlations between the use of keywords and work-life balance ratings in 2021, finding that employees in industries (correlation = 0.61) and those who work for employers (correlation = 0.05) with higher average work-life balance ratings are significantly more likely to leave positive reviews using the words ‘wellbeing.’ 

We also found a strong and significant correlation (0.641) between sectors whose employees frequently discuss flexible work and higher work-life balance ratings, as well as a weak but significant correlation (0.04) between employers where employees feel more burnout and lower work-life balance ratings. These results show the importance of implementing practices to avoid burnout, focus on wellbeing, and improve flexible working options to ensure a strong work-life balance for employees.

We finally separated all our employers into two groups — our 20 highest-rated employers for work-life balance and all other employers with at least 50 work-life balance reviews — to compare the use of keywords between the two groups. Employees of the highest-rated 20 companies are significantly more likely than those working for other companies to positively mention wellbeing, flexible working, and work-life balance in their reviews, demonstrating that our top 20 companies have successfully provided a strong work-life balance for their employees by focusing on their employees’ wellbeing and allowing them the autonomy to set their own schedules. 

Conclusion

When it comes to work-life balance in 2021, employees particularly value setting their own schedules through flexible working practices. This might mean different things in different industries, from the capability to work from home and vary work hours in tech or professional services to the ability to tailor shifts to one’s home life in the hospitality industry. 

And although employees are increasingly discussing mental health and burnout in their employer reviews, many of the companies highly rated for work-life balance on Glassdoor have shown their commitment to their employees by implementing practices such as additional holidays to avoid exhaustion, wellbeing programmes, and flexible working policies. As the Great Resignation continues, and UK job vacancies hit a record high, employees interested in making a change should no longer be afraid to prioritise jobs that truly value work-life balance.

Methodology

This research was compiled using Glassdoor reviews from current and former UK-based full-time employees between January 1, 2018 and September 28, 2021. The average work life balance ratings displayed extend beyond the 10th decimal place to determine the rankings.

To rank individual companies based on work-life balance ratings, Table 1 only includes companies with at least 50 work-life balance ratings between January 1, 2021 and September 28, 2021. 

To measure discussion of work-life balance related topics, we look at reviews posted between January 1, 2018, and September 28, 2021 that include the keywords ‘mental health’, ‘burnout’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘well-being’, ‘flexible work’, ‘flexible working’, ‘work life balance’, ‘work.life balance’, ‘work/life balance’, and ‘work-life balance.’ 

Significance is calculated using a 2-sided Welch test for unequal variance. Variables are labeled as ‘significant’ when their p-values < 0.05. We calculate correlation using Pearson’s correlation coefficient (also known as Pearson’s r) and label correlations as strong when they are between 0.6-1.0, moderate when they are between 0.40-0.59, and weak when they are between 0.0-0.39. 

To speak with Lauren Thomas about this report, please contact pr@glassdoor.com. For the latest economics and labor market updates follow @LaurenTEcon on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, and subscribe to Glassdoor Economic Research.