Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

More Stress for Office Workers and a Path Toward Correction

Understanding the position your employees are in can go a long way toward understanding how to maintain a strong and healthy culture, even as the forces of the pandemic and economy create chaos and uncertainty.

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Large percentages of the remaining U.S. workforce are having drastically different experiences, depending on whether they are remote or considered essential and therefore physically at work. As such, their employers require diverse strategies for supporting both.

A recent survey conducted by Healthy Minds Innovation and YouGov sought to better understand the sources of stress for essential and nonessential office workers in the United States and to help find coping mechanisms for each. The survey, which was conducted in early June across 1,016 U.S. workers, is called ”The Healthy Minds Innovations Stress Management Study.”

Regardless of diverse experiences, many are feeling heightened stress during the outbreak; some of the reasons for this are shared between groups, and some are unique.

More Essential Workers Have a Lower Income and Less Education

The survey found that the majority (58%) of office workers have been deemed “essential” during the outbreak. This group of workers tended to have less education, with 68% of essential office workers indicating they had some college or less. Only 55% of those with a 4-year degree and 53% of those with graduate degrees indicated they had been flagged as essential.

Additionally, those in lower-income houses (under $40,000 a year) were much more likely (69%) to be considered essential compared with households that made more (on average, 57%).

When you look at nonoffice workers, the trend of essential employees making less and having less education plays out more dramatically. The majority of nonoffice essential workers fill infamously low-paying jobs, often due to those jobs having lower educational requirements.

Financial stress among these workers, office and nonoffice alike, has always been an issue, and any stress from the coronavirus rests on top of this extant underlying source of stress.

More Stressed Now?

Although not everyone is more stressed now than before, many are. The research took a look at who, precisely, falls into the more stressed range.

The study found:

  • 47% of women indicated they are more stressed now, compared with only 40% men.
  • 43% of those with children under 18 reported being more stressed. Interestingly, more workers without children (46%) indicated increased stress. Twenty-nine percent of those with children reported having less stress now, compared with 19% without children. It would be interesting to learn more about the reasons behind these findings.
  • Those who are not working from home feel significantly more stress (53%) compared with those who are working from home (38%).

Sources of More Stress

Those who indicated having more stress now were asked why. Uncertainty surrounding work was cited by 49% of those polled as the cause of their stress. Thirty percent of them said they were worried about their company’s future.

Work/life balance also played a roll, with 42% indicating that was the cause for their increased stress. Twenty-three percent said they had trouble getting adequate breaks and downtime during the day, and another 21% said they were having issues accommodating availability, scheduling changes, and flexible schedules.

Changes in the way work was done have led to a significant increase in stress. Twenty-eight percent said changes in office or team norms have led to more stress. That includes 26% saying that stress came from changes in team structure or dynamics, 24% saying it was changes in job responsibilities, and 15% indicating a lack of support. A small but significant 12% said higher levels of workplace scrutiny resulted in more stress.

Indicated Methods for Managing Stress

All who said they were more stressed now were asked how they thought they could help manage their stress.

Top methods for reducing stress included:

  • Spending more time outdoors: 49%
  • Focusing on physical activity, diet, sleep, or nutrition: 48%
  • Focusing on what is and is not under their control: 45%
  • Taking time for hobbies or entertainment: 44%
  • Spending time with friends or family: 41%
  • Reflecting on what is important: 35%
  • Meditating or mindfulness exercises: 26%
  • Using time-management techniques: 24%
  • Praying or attending religious services: 21%
  • Professional focus on goals, expectations, etc.: 20%
  • Taking steps to change career or grow professionally: 17%
  • Counseling, therapy, and/or support groups: 15%

Take note that the top methods do not require a lot of resources to assist employees.

Final Thoughts

The above list could be viewed as a rubric for action. Note how fewer people felt that professional intervention, a focus on professional development, and improving work efficiency were the way to go. Instead, focus should be placed on the top techniques workers indicated could help, which could be rolled out without too much difficulty.

Time is what employees need most. They would be able to spend more time outdoors, get enough sleep, find the time to cook better food, and have a moment to think. Whatever your solutions are, they should revolve around giving your employees time to breathe and finding ways to encourage them to make use of that time.

Read the full results here.