One year from lockdown: AXA research shows three-quarters of Brits have reassessed the meaning of their lives due to COVID-19

18 March 2021

Posted in People

by Daniel McMillan (see media contact)

  • Three-quarters of UK adults say what makes them happy and fulfilled has changed since the first national COVID-19 lockdown on 23 March 2020.
  • People are desperate for physical interaction with family and friends – almost six in 10 say spending time with loved ones is now what’s most important.
  • Increased focus on health and wellbeing: one in five (19%) plan to exercise more and almost a third (30%) plan to eat more healthily.
  • Majority of people prefer working from home, but almost a quarter (24%) say they’re working more hours from home than before.

Nearly three-quarters of UK adults (73%) say what makes them happy and fulfilled has changed over the past 12 months since the first national COVID-19 lockdown was imposed, according to new research from AXA.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults, which looked into how people’s attitudes have changed since the first COVID-19 lockdown on 23 March 2020, revealed that almost six in 10 (57%) of people feel that spending time with family and friends is now the most important factor in making them happy. The report also showed that, once lockdown ends, physical interaction with family and friends will be even more important than before. Almost nine in 10 (89%) of Brits say they plan to spend more time or a similar amount of time with family in person as they did before the pandemic and a comparable amount (87%) said the same about meeting with friends. Younger people aged 18-34 are the keenest to see family and friends, with more than half (56%) saying they want to see more of their family and around the same number (53%) saying they want to see more of their friends.

Going on holiday is the next most important need in Brits’ post-lockdown lives, with two-fifths (41%) saying holidays are essential to their happiness. Interestingly, this is higher than the number of people who say travelling freely wherever they want like they did before lockdown is most important to them, with less than a third (29%) of people stating this as a priority. In fact, listening to music (30%) and reading a book (30%) are more important to people, which suggests that many Brits have discovered more sedate and perhaps more solitary activities that give them balance.

Looking more closely at holidays, the research shows that breaks in the UK are likely to be more popular than holidays abroad once travel restrictions are relaxed. Nearly a third (32%) of respondents say they plan to holiday in the UK more often, compared to just over a quarter (26%) of those who say they will increase their holidays abroad. This suggests vaccine passports, the threat of quarantine and the general rigmarole of travelling overseas in a post-lockdown world will carry too much uncertainty for many people. This is especially true of older Brits, with 16% saying they plan to travel abroad less often – the same amount as those who say they’ll do it more.

Healthy lifestyles

The pandemic has made many of us more aware of our health and wellbeing and this is reflected in the research. Living a healthy lifestyle has become increasingly important, with half (49%) of those surveyed saying they plan to go to the gym or exercise when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and a fifth (19%) saying they will do so more than they did prior to the pandemic. Recent links between COVID-19 and obesity also seem to be getting through, as healthy eating is high on the priority list – almost a third of people (30%) say they’ll be eating more healthily going forward. Brits also plan to keep a closer eye on what they drink, with 16% saying they’ll drink less alcohol in the future. Although it looks like younger people aged 18- may be keeping alcohol sales topped up, as one in five (19%) plan to drink more booze.

Pubs and restaurants

Staying on the alcohol theme, pub and bar owners who are hoping for a post-lockdown rush may be sorely disappointed. Just 16% of people plan to visit a pub or bar more than they used to once they open up, just slightly higher than the 15% who plan to visit them less. Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s younger people who are most eager, with more than a third (34%) saying they’ll be frequenting a pub or bar more often, compared to 13% of 35-54 year-olds and just 6% of those aged 55+.

Restaurant owners may have more luck enticing customers through their doors, with one in five (21%) respondents saying they plan to dine out more often than they did before the pandemic. Although again these numbers are supported by younger people – nearly two in five (37%) 18-34 year-olds state they will visit restaurants more than they used to, compared to a fifth (20%) of 35-54 year-olds and just 11% of those aged 55+. In fact, more older people aged 55 and over say they will eat out even less frequently than before (14%), suggesting that concerns around socialising indoors and mixing with too many people may remain for some time to come.

Trying something new

While the events of the past year have made many people reprioritise what’s important in life, they have also inspired many to try something new. A quarter of people (24%) said that they have tried something for the first time within the past 12 months, with the same amount saying they are more confident about trying something different once restrictions are fully lifted.

Looking in depth at what lockdown has inspired people to try, a quarter (24%) of Brits say they have tried new recipes or learnt new cooking skills, and over a quarter (29%) said they have been motivated to start new physical pursuits, with 18% trying new ways to exercise indoors and 16% giving different outdoor exercises a go for the first time.

The future of work

The pandemic has resulted in a wholesale shift in working practices, with many workplaces forced to shut and employees now working remotely. While this enforced change was challenging for employers and employees alike at the beginning, has it now evolved into a better way of working for the future?

In all, nearly four in five (78%) workers surveyed said they were working from home some of the time. While the majority of people (36%) are working around the same hours at home as they were before, a quarter (24%) are working more hours and 12% are working considerably more hours from home. With one in five 18-55 year-old adults saying they plan to commute to work less in future, this begs the question as to whether many people are swapping the time commuting with spending more hours working at home.

Despite this, more than half of workers (55%) say they prefer working from home and a similar number (51%) say they will miss remote working if they have to return to the office. However, a significant minority are finding the new situation more challenging – two-fifths (42%) say they miss working in their usual workplace, and this is particularly the case with younger people, with 50% of 18-34 year-olds saying they miss it.

“As we arrive at the one-year anniversary of the UK’s first national lockdown, our research shows that COVID-19 has fundamentally changed people’s attitudes to their lives. It’s no surprise that so many are itching to spend more time with their family and friends, and this highlights the recent issues raised around loneliness and isolation caused by the various restrictions. While the events of the past 12 months have been extremely challenging for many, our research shows that the pandemic has increased the importance of health and wellbeing, and it’s encouraging to see so many individuals planning to improve their diet and exercise more.

“It was also interesting to see the findings on remote working. Many people have adapted to remote working admirably, although it’s worrying that a significant number are working more hours than before. While the majority of workers will miss remote working if they have to go back to the office, there are also many who miss their workplace – especially younger people. This shows there’s no easy answer to the office vs remote working debate. Employers would therefore be well advised to carefully consider their employees’ individual needs and work collaboratively to find a hybrid way of working that combines the best of both worlds.”

— Claudio Gienal, CEO, AXA UK & Ireland

Research carried out online by Opinium on behalf of AXA between 2 to 5 March 2021, among a nationally representative poll of 2,000 UK adults.