Your life has turned upside down. Instead of driving to work, you’re opening your laptop. If you share your home, you’ve got new coworkers and possibly new job titles, like childcare provider and distance learning supervisor.
It’s a lot of change in just a couple weeks. All across the country, we’ve been ordered to stay at home and practice social distancing in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 and buy hospitals time to prepare. It’s becoming clear the safety measures are taking a toll on the American psyche.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the viral threat and how it’s changing your life, you’re not alone. A new survey, Consumer Sentiment during a Time of Global Crisis, finds more than 50% of full-time American workers report their mental and social well-being is worse … in some cases, much worse.
The survey, conducted by Optum, included 500 American adults who work full-time across small and large companies.
The survey found less severe drops in financial and physical well-being. 41% of those surveyed now feel worse about their financial health, while 27% report declining physical health.
“Consumers need more help during this time of crisis,” says OptumHealth Chief Health Officer Seth Serxner, who led the study. “Without having both a treatment and a vaccine already in place, there’s a huge unknown around COVID-19 in terms of what the future is going to look like. That uncertainty creates a lot of angst. On top of that, not having the physical human contact we’ve had in prior months is very stressful. The lack of physical and social connection creates a lot of anxiety that we typically deal with by getting together with friends and coworkers to talk things out.”
84% of survey respondents say some, if not all, of their company’s employees are working remotely. That number is likely to be even bigger now, since the survey was conducted March 25–26. More than 40% of the survey group feels less productive at work. Given the close quarters Americans are working in, that finding doesn’t surprise Serxner. He cites crowded homes as one possible reason for the productivity drop.
“Imagine a husband needing space, a wife needing space to work, a child needing space to go to school virtually. And everyone’s routines being disrupted. So that could also be an impact on productivity,” says Serxner. Other likely causes include anxiety over COVID-19 and unfamiliarity with telecommuting tools.
Not to mention the lack of face-to-face contact with colleagues we’re used to seeing every workday.
Serxner says, “The typical work environment involves dropping into an office, asking a question, having a meeting around a table with lots of opportunity for interaction and connection. People aren’t used to having to do this virtually. All of that could be playing into reduced productivity.”
How employers can best help their employees
Many employers are already taking steps to support their workforce. More than two-thirds of respondents say their employers are communicating COVID-19 policies, restricting non-essential travel, scheduling virtual meetings and providing tips on working remotely.
“Employees and their families are facing so many new challenges right now,” says Erin McSweeney, Optum chief human resources officer. “We understand what they are going through, and we will do everything we can to help them.”
For Optum, that means offering additional benefits. The upgrades range from full coverage of COVID-19 testing and related treatment to reimbursement for backup child care and rideshare services.
For those of us who are telecommuting, it’s easy to overlook the challenges facing essential employees expected to go to work despite the COVID-19 threat. Some of these workers are used to taking public transit which has been cut back or canceled during the outbreak.
The survey identifies opportunities for improvement. Serxner says, “Employers ought to step back and think about what are some of the workforce strategies they can deploy that would help create more support for their employees around mental and social well-being.”
What could help reverse the worsening social and mental health? For starters, 24/7 mental health support. For anxious employees whose COVID-19 worries are keeping them awake at night, a reassuring voice at 3 a.m. might make all the difference. It couldn’t hurt.
Other solutions in the consumer sentiment survey include collaborating with insurers to offer support and setting up confidential self-reporting for employees with COVID-19 symptoms. Of course, just like the virus that’s on everyone’s minds, employers are moving fast.
“We fully expect as we take the next version of this survey in a couple of weeks that we’ll see these numbers shift in the right direction,” says Serxner. We’ll probably all be better at telecommuting by then and less stressed about the challenge that we’re facing.
For now, let’s all take a deep breath and do what feels good, whether that’s binge-watching a favorite show, baking sourdough bread or working on a jigsaw puzzle with the family … a family you’re spending more time with than you ever dreamed possible.
Take a closer look at the COVID-19 consumer sentiment research by clicking here. When you’re done looking at that, tell us: What’s your biggest challenge during this stay-at-home time? Is there a silver lining to being at home so much? Please share what’s working for you … and what isn’t.