How is COVID Impacting Employees’ Mental Wellbeing?

Recent employee insights on stress, productivity, and wellbeing.

It is an understatement to say that COVID has fundamentally changed the way we live, work, and play, now…and in the future. 2021 is likely to be a year of transformation, innovation, and a time for redefining the paradigms we have been accustomed to. Research shows us that the impact of COVID will be long lasting. With children learning via online school, worry about loved ones, meeting fatigue, isolation, and a myriad of “extras” to think about added to daily life, just to stay safe, it is no wonder that 7 in 10 Americans (72%) say their lives have been disrupted by the virus. Even pre-pandemic, stress and anxiety were at concerning levels, and now, that has been elevated. In fact, just over half of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus and more than one in three adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic.

At MyEMQ, we have been conducting Energy Boosters with several Fortune 500 companies in recent months. Energy Boosters are quick, virtual sessions based on a purposefully designed experience for rapid learning, equipping employees with techniques to increase their positive mental wellbeing, capacity, and impact by harnessing the power of their personal energy.

Here are some insights from a recent Booster event that had 297 attendees, with a range of ages, roles, and functions, to help you think about your own employees, how you can support them now, and best set them up for success in the future.

Negative Emotions and Thoughts

There has been an increase in employees feeling negative emotions at the start and end of their day. Nearly half feel negatively to start their day, and nearly two thirds end their day in a negative state, a third of which end their day in a strong negative state such as feeling depressed, anxious, worried, or angry.

How is COVID Impacting Employees’ Mental Wellbeing?

At the start of the day, this negatively energized state can come from not getting high quality rest. There are many reasons for this, some of the most common being a busy mind due to concerns and worry, as well as not getting to bed at a good time in an attempt to fit more in the day. Indeed, it is safe to say that sleep quality has been impacted during COVID.

At the end of the day, these negative states often come from the stress of the day itself. For example, lots of virtual meetings can cause meeting fatigue which is taxing on the brain, or the stress of working while ensuring your child is doing online school. Employees often do not take the time to re-energize throughout their day, many feeling as though they cannot spare even 10 minutes for themselves given everything else demanded of them.

What impact can this increase in negative states have? Well, amongst the many:

  • Stronger reactions and less compassion impacting relationships
  • Less innovation as there is no capacity for ideation
  • Decreased well being

And a penny for their thoughts? (Aka what was on employees’ minds?) We were not surprised to find that most people had work, their family, and themselves personally, such as their health, top of mind.

While you can’t control someone’s actions or thoughts, as an organization, manager, or leader, you play an important role in creating environments that enable employees to be well and bring their whole and best self to what they do. From sustainable work loads, to curbing meeting mayhem, to wellbeing support, you can create a culture that is emotionally, mentally, and physically well. As humans, as co-workers, we too can play a large role in creating a positively energized environment. From being mindful of our responses and language, to noticing when someone is struggling, we can help each other be the best version of ourselves, especially during these challenging times.

Stress

Over two thirds were currently feeling high levels of stress. Being in a state of high stress can impact your body, mood, and behavior. From headaches to fatigue, lack of motivation and focus to irritability, and increased alcohol consumption to extreme responses, high levels of stress can impact every area of life.

How is COVID Impacting Employees’ Mental Wellbeing?

Increasing resilience can help battle stress. Building the mental and behavioral competencies for people to get through challenges, and even thrive in tough moments, can help reduce stress levels. Organizations often work to create resilience in other areas. For example, in IT they may take measures to ensure they can provide an acceptable level of service in the face of challenges to their normal operation. But, how are you enabling human resilience? What measures are you taking to ensure employees can continue successfully through difficult times?

Tasks

It is an understatement to say that people are busy. We had this problem before the pandemic. Everyone was busy. It was hard to imagine at the time how we could be even more busy, yet here we are, with many living in a constant state of busyness, scurrying from one task to another. More than a third typically had more than 10 items on their daily must-do list, and regardless of number of items, 61% experienced high or very high levels of stress about the number of things they had to do.

How is COVID Impacting Employees’ Mental Wellbeing?

Ensuring that realistic and accurate priorities are set and understanding people’s capacity is now even more important. Not everything can be the same priority. And, often the world will not implode if you cannot do something immediately. We must also remember that what is our priority, may not be someone else’s.

With increased work at home, has come an increase in meetings, with half of the employees spending more than half their day in back-to-back meetings. 5-min bio break anyone? It can help to really think about how you are using time, and the requests you are making of others time. Is a meeting really needed for that duration? Can the same outcome be reached in a different way? In fact, over half had a meeting or work-related item that was not a valuable use of their time and 42% could easily save over 30-min by making just one better decision in how they invest their energy. That’s just one better decision. Over 30-min saved. Imagine 2 or 3 better decisions. I’ll leave you to imagine what you could do with an extra hour or two in your week.

But, there is hope…

In the face of all of this, people are still finding something to feel good about and feel grateful for. The majority had found some benefit and positive impact from spending more time with family and found some benefits from working at home. So, in amongst what can feel like the darkness of “corona life”, there is not only hope, but there is an opportunity to come out of this as an even better version of ourselves and as an even better world. Tough times see resilience being built, innovation accelerated, and often, the best of humanity supporting each other.

With many taking a well-deserved break for the Holiday season, January can bring a moment of increased calm and energy. However, typically, as people get back into the swing, this soon wears off and old habits and stress levels creep back. From retail, to working-from-home, to the economy, the future is unknown across almost every facet of life. Although, one thing’s for certain, we as humans will get through it. We will adapt and evolve as we have so many times before. And, we will bring forth a new era based on the growth and knowledge we have gained through our 2020 experience. Make sure you are ready to support your employees in the best way possible so that they are equipped to embrace the future and attain success no matter what it looks like.

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Author: Sarah Deane

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