Not too long ago, in March 2020, had the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. In just a few weeks, employees lost their jobs, and many had their lives turned upside down.
An American Psychological Association (APA) survey conducted in October 2020 had issued a warning about the impact of the pandemic on physical and mental wellbeing. Many other studies also showed that employee mental health declined during the pandemic.
Many studies reported that physical health was getting affected due to many reasons during the pandemic. While the most common reason was mental stress, other causes included consuming more alcohol, unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity, lack of sleep, and gaining/losing an undesirable amount of body weight. Most of these health issues led to anxiety, stress, trauma, loneliness, societal consequences, and many health issues. While many employees delayed healthcare due to fear of going out or due to the absence of a timely healthcare system, it has increased employer-sponsored healthcare costs and strained the nation’s health care system.
The Harris Poll had conducted a survey in the US on behalf of the American Psychological Association in mid-February 2021. Almost 3000 adults who resided in the US were surveyed to understand the impact of the pandemic on their health and wellbeing. The respondents were categorized based on gender, age, working status, Race/Ethnicity, and if they had taken the COVID-19 vaccine or not.
Here are some key findings of the impact of the pandemic on employee health and wellbeing –
Undesired Weight Changes – Almost 61% of the respondents said they experienced undesired weight changes during the pandemic. More than 2 in every 5 of them (approx. 42%) said they gained weight more than they had expected, with an average gain of 29 pounds in adults. Almost 10% said they gained more than 50 pounds of undesired weight during the pandemic. 18% of Americans said they lost weight during the pandemic, and the average lost weight was 26 pounds.
According to the National Institutes of Health, people who gained more than 11 pounds were at a higher risk of developing chronic health conditions like coronary heart disease and Type II diabetes, while a gain of more than 24 pounds put them at a higher risk of getting an ischemic stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that overweight people were more likely to suffer from serious illnesses from the coronavirus.
Changes in Sleep Patterns – Sleep is important for overall health and wellbeing. Almost 67% of the Americans, i.e., 2 of 3, said they were experiencing changes in their sleeping patterns. While 35% reported that they slept less, 31% said they have been sleeping more than they wished to. About 23% (1 in every 4) reported consuming more alcohol to cope with their stress and sleep issues during the pandemic. This proportion included more than half of the adults (52%) who were stressed out juggling their responsibilities with children of age 5-7 years old studying in early elementary school.
Increased Stress Levels – Approximately half (48%) of the working parents said their stress levels skyrocketed during the pandemic. More than 3 in every 5 (62%) parents with children who were studying remotely by online schooling agreed to the same.
Mental Health Conditions – Employees working in essential services were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder and received treatment for the same, compared to the ones working in non-essential sectors. While 25% of essential workers were diagnosed with a mental health condition and 34% had sought professional help, 9% of non-essential workers were diagnosed and 12% had sought help.
Impact on Physical Health – Along with affecting mental health, the pandemic also impacted physical health. More than half (53%) of the US adults agreed they had little or no physical activity during the pandemic, much less than what they had anticipated doing. Almost half (47%) of the Americans agreed that they delayed or postponed their regular healthcare services since the pandemic had begun.
Racial Difference for Social Wellbeing – Compared to all the other racial groups, Black Americans were more likely to be stressed and concerned about their future. Almost 57% of the Black Americans felt worried and uneasy about balancing and tuning with personal interactions after normalcy resumes, compared to 51% of Asians, 50% of the Hispanic people, and 47% of the White population, who felt the same way.
Impact of Mental Stress on Different Generations – Generation Z accounted for the highest number of employees to have suffered from stress and mental health conditions during the pandemic, compared to before the global COVID-19 problem started. While 46% of the Gen Z employees had poor mental health, it was followed by 33% of Gen X, 31% of Millennials, 28% of Baby Boomers, and 9% of the older adults.
Almost 3 out of 4 adults (75%) with high-stress levels reported gaining undesired body weight during the pandemic, compared to 43% with less stress. Also, 84% with high stress were likely to have sleep pattern disturbances (sleeping more or less), compared to 42% with low-stress levels. While 38% with higher stress levels consumed more alcohol to cope with the mental condition, it was only 10% for people with low stress. Additionally, 63% (3 out of 5) with high-stress levels were less physically active since the pandemic started, compared to 42% with low-stress levels.
To help employees overcome all these issues, employers have started implementing corporate wellness programs with suitable employee wellness solutions. With the focus shifting to employee mental health and holistic wellbeing, employers are prioritizing them by including the right wellness challenges ideas and resources in their corporate wellness programs.
Most well-planned corporate wellness programs focus on improving employee health and wellbeing by including modules like –
- Identifying potential risks and unhealthy habits through assessments and screenings.
- Choose the best-suited wellness challenges ideas and activities and set actionable goals.
- Stay consistent with the wellness activities, log activities, and track progress to ensure behavior change.
- Seek help from health coaches or other educational resources from the corporate wellness programs to keep up with the wellbeing journey.