Workplace Stress During the Pandemic – A Study

15th November 2022

Posted In: Be In The Frame

A study conducted by researchers at Maynooth University and Kingston University in the UK, indicates a need for on-going employee supports for those suffering workplace stress.

The study surveyed people in 30 different countries across all career stages for the first two months of the pandemic. The work builds on initial findings published in 2020, which detailed the impacts of the pandemic on young people starting out in working life to incorporate those at mid and late career stages.

During this time respondents in all countries experienced an extended period of restrictions and lockdowns with most working exclusively from home and many in shared households or with carer responsibilities.

The research revealed that people at the start of their careers were more likely to feel stressed in comparison to those at latter stages of their careers, but more experienced personnel were more prone to burn out and exhaustion.

The findings of the study indicate that, with a return to hybrid or in-person working, organisations need to take steps to assess whether wellbeing improves for those employees most affected during this time, and to take steps to assist them, according to Professor Audra Mockaitis, Professor of International Business at Maynooth University.

She draws parallels to current hybrid working conditions and the need for on-going research, commenting:

“With the return to hybrid or in-person working, it is important to assess whether wellbeing improves for those employees most affected and to take necessary steps to assist with this. For many individuals, it is not as simple as ‘business as usual’.

The pandemic, and organizations’ responses to it, affected working lives dramatically; each person has their own story of pandemic trauma. Unfortunately, poor organizational response and support means that the effects of the pandemic will linger for longer for many. Organizations must do better with respect to their employees at all career stages.”

Relative newcomers to the workforce typically need additional support from their managers, and this was even more the case during the pandemic due to remote working, as Prof Audra Mockaitis explains:

“The results were stark, showing distinctly that respondents within different career stages reacted differently to pandemic disruptions. The early career group stood out with clear difficulties coping, compared to older employees.”

The research also revealed that for early career workers stress could manifest as the employee showing a lack of interest and becoming cynical about work as a way of coping and distancing, presenting complex problems to their managers.

Meanwhile, mid-career workers – categorised as those settled in a career – were prone to exhaustion during the pandemic. In some cases, this was because of juggling other responsibilities, such as home schooling due to school closures.

Becoming over-tired and disengaged could have contributed to a national trend in which highly skilled employees in the over-50s were leaving their professions before retirement.

As well as examining the wellbeing of staff, the study also investigated factors that could mitigate stress or exhaustion, such as giving employees higher levels of autonomy at work.

The researchers found there appeared to be a shift in attitudes towards organisational support, a resource that’s helpful to manage work. Prior to the pandemic, these supports were viewed positively but with the shift to online meetings people could find them interfering and tiring.

As the world moved to living with Covid-19, and the likelihood of another pandemic rising due to globalisation, greater understanding of how pandemics affect the working lives and wellbeing of employees at different stages of life was needed, the authors found.

Dr Christina Butler, Associate Professor at Kingston University’s Business School, and co-author of the study, notes: “Organisations must pay attention to the types of support needed by employees to help them through a crisis.

Extra support is clearly needed to help the younger generation of employees, who don’t cope as well under the new pressures, balance job demands while working remotely.

More emphasis on this will help achieve a productive workforce through people having greater connectivity and a sense of wellbeing at work.”

The research has recently been published in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour.