Covid-19 – counting the cost

by | Oct 6, 2020 | 0 comments

The world is still feeling the impacts of a global pandemic – a public health emergency that has changed our working lives forever. In addition to a substantial death toll, this crisis has put significant strain on employers, the economy and our mental health. Though the virus itself will eventually be contained, its effects may last for a decade.

Wellbeing has become a priority for every organisation
A short time after the Coronavirus was first reported in the UK, employee wellbeing became something that every employer had to start taking seriously. The significant changes to our personal and professional lives had immediate negative effects on all of us. Eighty-four percent of UK adults say they were worried, leading to nearly half of adults reporting high levels of anxiety and more than 50% reporting an effect on their wellbeing.

The lockdown also exacerbated an already growing problem of loneliness. According to the ONS, in May 2020, one in 20 people said they felt lonely, with young people twice as likely to suffer with loneliness during the lockdown. Half of those who said their wellbeing was affected because of lockdown say they experienced loneliness. Results like these led to the formation of the International Covid-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration. Forty-two researchers from around the world have come together because of concerns about the long-term impact lockdown will have on mental health. Long before the virus reached our lives, UK mental health services have been strained and employees were turning to their employers for support.

As a result of the pandemic, more than two thirds of organisations have introduced new wellbeing benefits to support employees. However, MetLife discovered that 41% of employees felt that their employer did not offer benefits or programmes that helped support or improve their wellbeing during this challenging time. Three quarters of employees say that their stress and overall wellbeing would have been improved if their employers had offered more health benefits and programmes.

An analysis of pre-Coronavirus data from the end of 2019 compared to data from April 2020 shows us that employees are now far more likely to believe their employers have a responsibility to address employee health and wellbeing, particularly when it comes to financial wellbeing.

The Financial Wellbeing Impact
One of the reasons why the UK Government was so quick and committed to investing money into supporting employees is that they were only just managing before the crisis hit. The weakest wage growth since the 19th century put millions of UK workers on a knife edge, with most just one payday away from serious financial strain. As a result of the pandemic, more than half of employees say that finances are their biggest wellness concern. This is employees’ highest area of concern, even over physical and mental health. Two in five employees working for large organisations reported an increase in financial anxiety in the wake of the pandemic.

Recessions have been shown to have significant negative effects on the health and mortality of populations. Following the 2008 financial crisis, changes to employment had strong effects on chronic health – particularly mental health. Researchers have found that a 1% fall in employment leads to a 2% increase in the prevalence of chronic illnesses. For up to two years after large scale drops in employment, mental health conditions will continue to rise. It’s estimated that if a similar recession to that of 2008 follows the pandemic, the number of working age adults with poor mental health will rise by half a million. Harvard economist Kenneth S Rogoff told The New York Times in April that this recession was: “shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years”.

The Emotional Wellbeing Impact
Employers will need to work hard and make big commitments to employee wellbeing over the next few years to mitigate the impact the virus has had on their staff. Around half of employees say they have felt the adverse effects of the pandemic on their mental health. Just under half have shown signs of psychological distress. Two thirds of employees say that this period has been the most stressful of their careers.

For decades after large-scale disasters, human trauma is not only felt by survivors and their families, but also by those people on the periphery. The negative effects of this pandemic will be seen in the lives of those that never even contracted the virus.

Wellbeing and the employer brand
During the pandemic, the court of public opinion was in session and social media was awash with employees willing to ‘out’ their employers’ mistakes or mistreatment of employees. More than half of employees say their employer did not show enough concern for their mental health during lockdown. However, for the half that did feel cared for, they said their work relations improved because of it. As a result, more than 60% of professionals now say they are inspired to work for an organisation that looks after its people during “unprecedented times”.

LinkedIn found that social media posts by employers related to Coronavirus got more attention than other posts – especially when they were focussed on how employers were supporting their people. Some of the most successful LinkedIn updates during the pandemic were the ones where employers showed how they were helping their staff through the situation, where they offered enhanced sick pay or furlough support and how that organisation was helping society with things like donations and the manufacture of hand sanitiser.

Brands will be defined by how they handled the virus. A major study of 35,000 global consumers by Kantar found that people were looking for explicit evidence that brands supported their staff during the virus. Almost 80% said they believe employee health has been a key priority for organisations during the pandemic.

Recovery and optimism
Support and investment in employee wellbeing will form a huge part of how well our society will recover from this pandemic. As the most trusted institution in the lives of employees all over the world, the employer has a unique and exciting opportunity to help support employees to recover from the crisis and the resulting recession.

Consumers and employees have kept a close eye on those organisations that stepped up and supported their staff during this difficult time. As the effects of the virus continue to ripple through society for years to come, the majority of people will want to work for an organisation that not only shows how they support the wellbeing of their people, but that can prove they stepped up and made a difference when it counted.

Benefex is supporting its customers with award-winning HR technology, empowering employees with the education and tools they need to make better health and wellbeing decisions.

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