• COVID-19 prompted about 30% of employed adults to take a leave of absence, according to a new World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey.
  • 56% experienced increased anxiety around job security.
  • 55% found changes in work routines and organization stressful.
  • Almost half of all surveyed felt lonely or isolated when working from home.
  • More than 40% said their productivity fell and it was hard to get work done at home.

Stress, anxiety and loneliness have increased among working people, according to a new survey, underscoring the ongoing toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than half of working adults experienced anxiety relating to their job security and stress due to changes in their working patterns, according to a World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey.

With the virus continuing to affect every region of the world, the results shine a light on the widespread disruption to life and show how the effects go beyond physical health, to mental health and everyday working patterns.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Among those able to work from home, family pressures, finding a work-life balance and feelings of loneliness and isolation were cited as increasing as the pandemic disrupted lives and interrupted long-established practices.

a chart showing the effect of COVID-19 on workers
COVID-19 is taking its toll.
Image: IPSOS

Some are affected more than others

While for some, there are upsides to working from home, such as a reduced commute and more personal time, there are also limitations. And much of the global workforce has little or no opportunity to work remotely, with jobs requiring machinery or person-to-person contact.

More than half of the people surveyed between 20 November and 4 December worked from home, while 32% worked longer hours, 32% worked shorter hours, 30% took a leave of absence and 15% left their job.

Others reported falling productivity, working very early in the morning or very late at night and difficulties in getting work done due to inadequate home office set-up.

The report also showed variations from country to country. While around half of respondents said they felt lonely when working remotely, this varied from 75% in Turkey to just 24% in Japan. Most countries showed more than 40% of home workers feeling isolated.

a chart showing how loneliness has increased under remote working
Globally, 49% of workers say they've felt lonely or isolated working from home.
Image: IPSOS

And the findings showed the pandemic is taking its toll on some more than others, with people under age 35, business owners, decision-makers, lower-income workers and women more prone to reporting negative effects on their well-being.

An expensive mental health legacy

COVID-19 is likely to leave a legacy of mental health problems, according to work by the University of Sydney and the World Economic Forum, which explored how past economic crises had a ‘scarring’ effect on the mental health of young people. It suggested that the right interventions and investments could help mitigate the impact.

“The projected cumulative cost of lost productivity associated with psychological distress, hospitalizations and suicide over the period 2020-2025 is estimated at $114 billion,” the researchers, including Jo-An Atkinson, Head of Systems Modelling and Simulation, University of Sydney and Cameron Fox, Project Specialist, Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare at the Forum, wrote.

The two institutions say there is some opportunity to bring down those costs, with targeted action. Of the interventions simulated, employment programmes were the single most effective strategy for mitigating the adverse mental-health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.