End of restrictions and the return to the physical workspace

I think we’ve all asked ourselves the question “will life ever go back to normal?” over the last couple of years. At times, the pandemic has felt never ending. Sadly, some of us have lost loved ones, but all of us have made personal sacrifices in one way or another – whether that be by giving up our freedom of movement, our ability to socialise with other households, or having to face longer waiting times for NHS medical treatment. But finally, there feels like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, with the long-awaited end of many of the restrictions we’ve been faced with over the last two years.

 In the UK, workers are returning to the physical workplace in their greatest numbers since the pandemic began, with office occupancy levels currently sitting around 28%.With many employers taking a hybrid approach to allow for flexible working, and many universities doing the same for their students, many people find themselves having to move back to cities to be closer to their physical work or study space. This has brought with it an increased demand for accommodation and increased rental prices - up £62 a month from pre-pandemic.

 So, what is normal? Over the last couple of years, we’ve gotten so comfortable with wearing masks in public, working from the comfort of our living rooms, and catching up with colleagues virtually. Naturally, our normal looks a little different now than it did two years ago, and for some of us, it’s going to take us a while to re-adjust.

Overcoming new hurdles

 During the pandemic, 1 in 4 of those employed were on furlough at some point between March 2020 and June 2021, and the number of redundancies in the UK between September-November 2020 was the highest since 1995. Whilst the UK’s unemployment rate has fallen below its pre-pandemic rate to 3.9%, down from 4.1% in the last quarter of 2021, many of us are still feeling a tight squeeze on our finances. Average wages have dropped at the fastest rate since 2014, and pay growth fails to keep up with rising inflation amongst the cost-of-living crisis - with energy bills set to increase 14x faster than wages this year.

Young people especially are feeling the pressure, with unemployment still 6% higher than pre-pandemic for 25–49-year-olds, and many of those who lost their jobs have returned to less secure work - often in gig economy roles Fortunately, at Owl, we have many recruitment opportunities to meet the growing demand for financial protection advice – Find out more here.

Admittedly then, this new normal can feel scary, especially on our wallets. It’s important to have a financial plan in place, so you’re better prepared to deal with scenarios that may require immediate assistance. Having financial protection in place is a key player in a successful financial plan, and this can give you confidence that you and your family will be less financially vulnerable should the unexpected occur. In 2020, £202 million was paid by insurers to help the families of those who died due to Coronavirus, whilst ABI members paid around £2.5 billion across all insurance products for Covid-19 related claims. Owl Financial are proud to have played a part in arranging financial protection for our clients during this time and supporting them with claims.  Over the past couple of years, collectively millions of pounds have been paid to clients of Owl by insurers we work with. During the pandemic, our advisers also adopted a hybrid way of working, and we’re still pleased to continue to offer our clients the choice between a face-to-face or a virtual meeting. 

Increased anxiety

 A squeeze on our finances is just one hurdle we’re having to overcome post-pandemic. And if you’re feeling anxious, you’re not alone. By the end of 2021, the number of referrals for specialist NHS mental health care in England reached a record high of 4.3 million. 40% of young people now feel anxious about socialising with people, and 50% are suffering with feelings of burn out due to the emotional impact of the pandemic. 

 Feeling positive about the easing of covid restrictions can feel tough, especially when many of us are watching the news on repeat and experiencing newfound helplessness and headline anxiety surrounding current affairs in Eastern Europe. After a two-year long pandemic, it’s a lot to absorb, and it’s normal to feel distressed and overwhelmed.  Always know, there is help available.

A focus on wellbeing

During these unprecedented times and beyond, it’s so important to take care of your mental and physical wellbeing. First things first, try and avoid doomscrolling. We know, it’s easier said than done, and whilst avoiding the news completely is almost impossible, and it’s important to know what’s going on in the world, immersing yourself in news 24/7 is undoubtedly going to leave you feeling worried. Scrolling won’t help but donating to charities will. Try and live in the present moment, keep active, and spend time doing the things you enjoy most – especially now we’re starting to return to some form of pre-pandemic normality.

It's also important to talk about your feelings, whether that’s with friends, family or a trained professional, and know when to ask for help. At Owl, we’re always here when things get tough – some of the policies we arrange offer mental health services such as counselling as an added extra, so you can access support when you need it most. With NHS waiting times worsened by the pandemic, 1 in 6 Britons are now going private in order to access treatment more quickly. If this is something you’re interested in, we work with trusted partners and well-known names who can help with private health insurance, so get in touch now if you’d like to know more.

 As we’ve always said, it pays to expect the unexpected – life is full of unpredictability and whilst we often wish we could control the events that take place day-to-day, this is of course unrealistic. With Spring here and Summer on the horizon, we’re feeling positive about what’s to come at Owl Financial. What’s normal anyway? It’s time to embrace new ways of living, whilst taking life at your own pace, paying attention to your physical and mental health and by reframing what really matters to you in 2022.