New research reveals 73% of heritage workers are afraid to return to work when their organisation reopens

12 May 2021
As many heritage attractions prepare to reopen on 17 May, research1 commissioned by specialist heritage insurer Ecclesiastical has revealed three quarters (73%) of heritage workers in the UK are afraid to return to work when their organisation reopens2.

Mental health concerns in the heritage sector

The survey, released during Mental Health Awareness Week3, discovered that since the first COVID-19 lockdown, six in 10 (60%) workers from museums, galleries, theatres, stately homes and castles have seen an increase in staff / volunteer mental health concerns at their organisation4. 58% have also reported an increase in staff / volunteer anxiety at their organisation5.

Two thirds (65%) of those surveyed believe COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health issues in the heritage sector.

Reopening anxiety

The research found over half (55%) of heritage workers feel anxious about returning to work in person when their organisation reopens6.

The main reasons why workers feel anxious about returning are concerns about visitor behaviour (38%) and concerns about the risks of catching COVID-19 (37%).

Visitors not wearing masks (31%), volunteers not wearing masks (31%) and visitors not adhering to social distancing (31%) are also key reasons why workers feel anxious about reopening.

Challenges facing heritage attractions due to COVID-19

Of those surveyed, heritage workers feel the impact of job losses on staff mental health (27%), increased workloads (26%) and staff stress and anxiety (25%) are the biggest challenges heritage attractions are facing due to COVID-19.

Increased pressure on remaining staff when others are furloughed (24%) and loss of volunteers (23%) are also key challenges facing the sector.

Wellbeing support

The survey revealed the majority (91%) of heritage organisations are providing additional wellbeing support in response to COVID-19.

The most popular wellbeing support that has been introduced by heritage organisations since COVID-19 are counselling services for staff and volunteers (34%) and providing third party/professional helplines (34%). This was closely followed by additional training for staff on managing mental health issues (33%), introducing mindfulness techniques (33%) and mental health first aiders (29%).

Despite many heritage attractions providing additional wellbeing support, seven in 10 (70%) heritage workers believe their organisation needs to do more to support staff and volunteer wellbeing.

When asked what else they would like their organisation to offer, respondents suggested they would like their workplace to have a health policy, health insurance, financial support and mental health first aiders.

Faith Kitchen, Heritage Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “As England’s leading insurer of Grade I listed buildings, we’re passionate about Britain’s heritage. Our latest research shows that many heritage workers are feeling anxious about reopening and 60% have seen an increase in staff and volunteer mental health concerns since the pandemic. We recognise that it is an incredibly challenging time for the heritage sector and heritage organisations need to carefully manage these risks. It’s encouraging to see that the 91% of heritage organisations have introduced additional wellbeing support to help their staff and volunteers during this difficult time.”

1 The survey was commissioned by Ecclesiastical Insurance and conducted by OnePoll with 500 decision makers who work at museums, galleries, theatres, stately homes and castles (100 per organisation) from 24 February – 8 March 2021.

2 To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: I’m afraid to return to work when my organisation reopens

  • Strongly agree 21%
  • Somewhat agree 52%

3 Mental Health Awareness Week UK 10-16 May 2021

4 Since the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, has your organisation seen an increase or decrease in staff / volunteer mental health concerns?

  • Staff and volunteer mental health concerns have greatly increased 12%
  • Staff and volunteer mental health concerns have increased 48%

5 Since the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, has your organisation seen an increase or decrease in staff / volunteer anxiety?

  • Staff and volunteer anxiety has greatly increased 13%
  • Staff and volunteer anxiety has increased 45%

6 Do you feel anxious about returning to work in person at your organisation when it reopens?

  • Yes 55%