While international economies and healthcare infrastructure are suffering as a result of COVID-19, so too is another facet of the business world: the workforce. The pandemic and the fallout from it have done more than just induce fear and anxiety about contracting the virus in working individuals – they’ve also amplified concerns about lay-offs – which have been rampant since early 2020 – unemployment, isolation as a result of remote working, and more.
And those are just the concerns that affect mental health. A new study by insurance firm Aetna International has highlighted other health concerns employees are having during this period of uncertainty.
The report sheds light on this issue in the UAE, especially given the differing working arrangements employees are having to contend with.
The research — which was conducted in September 2020 and surveyed over 1000 employees in the UAE — found that the health concerns of remote workers differed greatly from their office-based colleagues at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force the nation’s enterprises to get creative about workspaces. And as global media reports start to address the emergence of possible vaccines, the study revealed that two in three UAE workers favor a return to the office, with the remainder preferring to work from home when the crisis has abated.
The survey showed significant differences between the health concerns and stresses faced by the two groups.
Almost half (44%) of current remote workers cited gaining weight as a major concern, with mental health issues (40%) and stress (35%) following closely. Additionally, more than a third (34%) of home-based employees were worried about how their sedentary conditions could lead to afflictions of the bones, muscles, and joints. And some 29% expressed concerns over fatigue or lack of sleep.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people living with obesity have seven times greater odds of developing severe forms of COVID-19.
The surveyed employees working in the office were clear that their main anxiety lays in contracting the coronavirus. Some 46% raised it as a major worry, compared with just 13% of those working from home. And a further 27% of office-based employees said they were troubled by the prospect of getting flu and other seasonal diseases.
Common stress was the second greatest concern of office-based employees, with 41% bringing it up. The fact that this is close to the percentage of remote workers that listed stress as a health issue suggests that worries about the condition are not contingent on where a worker is based. And while mental health issues such as depression and anxiety were cited by considerably less (23%) office-based respondents, than their remote colleagues, it is clear that employers should be looking for ways to extend or provide mental health support as a standard benefit in the future.
The survey also showed that employees’ expectations for their health and wellbeing have shifted from pre-crisis. More than 80% agree that health issues are more important to them now than before they had heard of COVID-19, and they expect their employers to recognize healthcare as a pressing issue.
81% say their mental health is more important to them now than ever before and 88% believe this of their physical health. And 72% expect employers to prioritize mental health care more in the age of COVID, while 63% expect this regarding physical health. When asked directly whether having comprehensive health insurance is more important now than before the pandemic took hold, 76% said “yes” and 66% said their employer should be spending more on health benefits.
While talk of potential vaccines has been amplified as of late, many of the issues highlighted in this study will not simply disappear after the pandemic ceases. This means that employers will need to meet higher expectations in terms of healthcare benefits from their employees, lest they lose some of their best talent.
The UAE government has done its part to support both employers and employees during these challenging times, and will continue to do so moving forward.
So far, the Gulf nation has reported more than 161,000 COVID-19 cases, over 150,000 recoveries, and more than 559 deaths as of this writing.