Roughly 80% of Workers Don’t Want to Come Back, Citing Virus Fears

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

While employees are returning to workplaces across the country, sadly, a majority of them are still worried they may end up losing their jobs because of the novel coronavirus.

A new study from The WellBeing Lab indicates U.S. employees are feeling the stresses of the “new normal,” with an increasing number (84%), up almost 10% from 2019, feeling they are “really struggling” at their jobs. Conversely, the number of those claiming to be “thriving” at work has decreased 6% during the same time frame.

Well-being expert Michelle McQuaid joined forces with workplace psychologists at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University to come up with an in-depth survey in order to gauge the well-being of today’s worker. The research compared trends from data taken last year with new data collected during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“We expected to see more stress and anxiety being reported given the health crisis,” says McQuaid, the founder of The Wellbeing Lab, an international consortium of workplace wellness experts, in a press release announcing the study findings. “But what the numbers are calling into focus is a significant failure on management’s part in supporting their employees with the appropriate tools they will need to perform better.”

According to the study findings:

  • Only 13% of workers are consistently thriving, compared with 19% in February 2019, while “those not feeling bad, but just getting by” climb to 45.1%.
  • 84% of workers reported that their levels of struggle have increased since the start of 2020, with mental health (36.7%), changes at work (27.2%), and managing money at home (23.4%) being their biggest struggles.
  • Only 49% feel confident to care for their well-being, but workers who reported higher levels of confidence were more likely to also report higher levels of engagement, performance, and well-being.

The study also features information specific to how COVID-19 has impacted work; findings include:

  • 85% of workers feel worried and anxious that they may lose their jobs.
  • Only 21.6% report feeling positive about the prospect of returning to the office as the pandemic restrictions ease. For the 78.3% in the report “not feeling positive,” the majority of those cite fear of catching the coronavirus as the reason, while others cite that they really “enjoy the flexibility” of working from home.
  • People now working at home due to COVID-19 and those who have kids at home were more likely to report that their levels of struggle have increased since the start of 2020.
  • For workers located at home, mental health was particularly challenging, and it is worth noting for those who have always worked at home that physical health is their second-largest struggle.
  • 85% of workers feel worried and anxious they may catch COVID-19, yet 75.6% are uncertain of what actions they should be taking in response to COVID-19.

When it comes to turning things around and creating a work environment where employees can thrive, The Wellbeing Lab found that many employees report receiving little support from management. Only about a third of managers displayed genuine empathy, with nearly 7 out of 10 (67%) workers reporting feeling lonely and isolated at times and only 2 out of 10 feeling it was safe to share their struggles at work. Less than 6% of workers would turn to their HR team to talk about their job struggles.

“What’s really evident from the data is that those suffering on the job reveal they are doing so in silence. Management isn’t hearing about their plights,” reports McQuaid. “As we design the post-pandemic workplace, now is the time for U.S. businesses to step up and provide their struggling workers with the tools they actually need to turn the situation around.”

The most common forms of well-being support in the U.S. workplaces are healthcare and health services benefits (16.3%) (e.g., telehealth, virtual health care, preferred provider organization (PPO), health maintenance organization (HMO), prescription, dental, vision); paid leave (17.9%) (e.g., vacation, sick leave, holidays); flexible work (12.5%) (e.g., telecommuting, flexible scheduling); and employee assistance programs (EAPs) (12%).

These benefits do little to teach workers the skills they need to more confidently care for their well-being, particularly within the current struggles they are experiencing. It’s evident that workers are struggling to adapt, yet additional research conducted by NeuroLeadership Institute uncovered different findings than those found in The Wellbeing Lab’s study.

In NeuroLeadership Institute’s new report, “COVID-19’S IMPACT ON THE WORKPLACE,” respondents reported being more productive (43%), 57% of individuals expressed their optimism about the future of their industry, and 67% said they feel secure that they can maintain their current employment.

Additionally, most organizations are perceived to be handling the current crisis well, with 24% of respondents saying their organizations are “going above and beyond” and 66% saying they are doing “great.” When it comes to COVID-19 itself, respondents in the NeuroLeadership Institute’s report cited feeling cautious.

When asked about the average threat level caused by COVID-19 concerns, a majority of participants (55%) said their threat levels were pretty low, claiming they feel alert but not alarmed, while 26% say they are feeling highly alert and somewhat alarmed, and 5%—the fewest amount of respondents—say they are feeling both highly alert and highly alarmed.

While both reports have conflicting data about employees’ perceptions regarding work and COVID-19, one thing is apparent: Managers and employers must communicate more with workers to put their fears at ease, keep them on task and productive, and help provide the guidance and support these workers are craving in order to be successful in their current roles.

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