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Pandemic Stress Affects Productivity

Published Friday Mar 19, 2021

Author Susan McKeown

Pandemic Stress Affects Productivity

Fear, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed can lead to burnout, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and HR departments are developing programs to help employees struggling with pandemic issues at home and at work.

COVID has caused significant disruption in households and stress in marriages. When the opportunities to relieve stress are minimized, as with gym closures, restaurant restrictions and church services cutting back, relationships that are already under stress struggle to remain intact. The ability to cope with these emotions can affect an employees’ well-being, the people they care about, their workplace and their community. The CDC emphasizes the importance of recognizing the signs of stress, taking steps to build resilience, strengthening relationships, managing job stress and knowing where to go for help.

There are many signs the stress of the pandemic is overwhelming people. A recent “Journal of the American Medical Association” article found alcohol use between the spring 2019 and spring 2020 increased 14% overall, and heavy drinking for women increased 41%. An Oct. 16, 2020 article in “The Law Review” noted that by April the interest in divorce had already increased by 34%, with newer couples being the most likely to divorce. Their new marriage apparently was not prepared for the degree of togetherness this pandemic has required. Some predict this trend will continue, anticipating that divorce rates will increase 10% to 25% in the second half of the year.

And while reports of child abuse have decreased by 50% since the quarantine, that is due to day care centers and schools being closed and medical offices seeing only acute visits, which has resulted in having fewer eyes on the children. The reality is increased stress in households is leading to some couples taking it out on each other, resulting in a volatile home environment. These unsafe homes can lead to the mental and/or physical abuse of children, and that also comes with a cost to businesses. A 2012 study by the CDC showed the maltreatment of children costs  businesses $144,360 per child annually in lost productivity.

There are steps businesses can take to help employees strengthen their resiliency. The Boston Consulting Group conducted a survey from the end of May through mid-June of more than 12,000 professionals employed before and during COVID-19 in the U.S., Germany and India. BCG found four factors that correlate with employees reporting continued or even enhanced productivity on collaborative tasks: social connectivity, mental health, physical health and workplace tools.

Those who reported social connectivity with colleagues were two to three times more likely to maintain or improve their productivity on collaborative tasks. Those who reported better mental and physical health and workplace tools were twice as likely to maintain or improve their work. And those who had all four factors were found to be five times more likely to collaborate and be productive.

The loss of connection with colleagues has been challenging. Some businesses bring staff in for occasional business meetings. Even virtual contact can at least provide a buffer to the isolation experienced by many employees.

Providing access to resources that can help employees cope with home issues, such as an employee assistance program, is critical during this time, as is reviewing benefits and services that employees can access through the company’s health care program, including counseling services.

Lunch-and-learn sessions, even held virtually, provide employees the opportunity to better deal with family stresses, which in turn could improve the company’s bottom line.

Helping couples learn strategies to strengthen their relationship through improved communication has never been more important. Improved skills can allow couples to better deal with the major issues of conflict in a marriage. When an employee goes to work, whether at the office or at home, these areas of concern do not evaporate. And with more workers at home, tensions are more apt to escalate because of proximity.

When couples work to protect their marriage and provide a healthy, secure and loving environment for their children, the benefit is felt by the family, as well as in the workplace, the community and society.

Susan McKeown, a certified prevention specialist, is an author and speaker on healthy relationships and preventing divorce. Visit or email  

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