2020 will forever be remembered as the year coronavirus disease (COVID-19) disrupted our lives. The year where social distancing, remote working, frequent disinfection and mandatory mask-wearing became part of our daily routine.
There has been much attention being placed on studying COVID-19 and its effect on the mental health of the global population over the past year. A general consensus points to the increase in symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress in populations affected by COVID-19.1 This phenomenon is similarly observed in previous pandemics such as the SARS-CoV outbreak in 2003 and H1N1 outbreak in 2009.2
At Intellect, we sought to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health, work situations, and coping strategies of individuals. Although there is existing literature on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of individuals, we are curious about a specific group of individuals – employees in the Singapore workforce. Some key questions guiding our research includes:
1. What is the current mental health status of employees?
2. What is the impact of remote working arrangements?
3. What is the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of employees?
The study ran from November to December 2020. Intellect surveyed 187 individuals in the Singapore workforce.
- Age range – All individuals included in the study are 21 years old or above. While there was a good distribution of the age groups, respondents were predominantly aged between 25 – 44 years old.
- Employment and educational qualification – A large majority of our participants were in full-time employment, with at least a Bachelor’s Degree.
- Gender and marital status – Gender of respondents was equally distributed. A slightly larger portion of respondents were unmarried (58%), as compared to employees who were married (38%).
- Remote working arrangements – Almost all respondents had remote working arrangements for at least one-day a week, with the majority of them spending more than half their work week working-from-home.
Mental health snapshot of employees in Singapore
Quality of Sleep
We asked respondents about their quality of sleep, and more than 50% of the respondents reported experiencing some form of sleep difficulties in the past year. In fact, almost 20% of the respondents reported difficulties falling asleep for at least 1 – 3 months, and 9% reported experiencing it for more than 1/3 of the time over the past year.
When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on work productivity levels, the majority of the respondents reported being less productive (46%), while the rest reported no change in their productivity (43%), and a small portion of respondents reported experiencing improved productivity (11%).
Stress & Anxiety
Majority of respondents also reported experiencing stress (68%) and anxiety (75%) over the past week, with females being 10% more likely to experience stress, and 20% more likely to experience anxiety. Preliminary analysis further suggested that stress and anxiety are significantly linked to lower levels of reported productivity levels and increased difficulties in falling and staying asleep.
Impact on employee wellbeing
Absenteeism & Presenteeism
Closely related to work productivity levels, respondents were asked to give an estimate of their absenteeism and presenteeism rates. Absenteeism can be broadly defined as one being absent from work, while presenteeism refers to one being present at work but not actually being productive on their work tasks.3
Respondents were asked to give an estimate of the number of days they were absent from work. 20% of the respondents reported being absent from work for at least a week over the past year.
When asked to estimate the number of days they were present at work but were not being productive, 38% of respondents reported such behaviours of presenteeism for at least 5 working days over the past year.
Such behaviours that result in losses of employees’ work hours may inevitably lead to huge costs to organisations. Previous studies on absenteeism and presenteeism have also highlighted that the cost of presenteeism is likely to be more critical to organisations than absenteeism.4*
Respondents’ burnout scores further suggested that 73% of them experience work exhaustion, while a startling 87% of them reported feeling disengaged at work. These respondents who reported at least one facet of burnout also tend to experience lower levels of work productivity.
One interesting finding that came through our preliminary analysis points to exhaustion being significantly correlated to higher rates of presenteeism, whereas disengagement is linked to higher rates of absenteeism.
This suggests that employees who are exhausted may still turn up at their workstation everyday but do not perform their work duties productively, and employees who are disengaged at work are likely to not turn up for work at all.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
Respondents were also asked to pick areas of the work life that has been significantly impacted by COVID-19.
The top three selected areas are:
2. Work fatigue
3. Poorer interpersonal relationships due to lack of face-to-face communications
Preliminary analysis shows that all three areas are linked to unfavourable working environments:
1. Employees who reported workload being impacted during COVID-19 also tend to experience work exhaustion
2. Employees who picked work fatigue as the area impacted by COVID-19 were more likely to experience work burnout, both exhaustion and disengagement, and reduced levels of productivity.
3. Employees who reported poorer interpersonal relationships (due to lack of face-to-face communication) are more likely to also report a lack of recognition and poor leadership communication during the pandemic.
Overall, preliminary results and analyses of the 2020 Workplace Health Survey are aligned to prior studies on COVID-19 and mental health, as well as research on work burnout and engagement.
Further deep diving and analysis will help us better understand potential contributing factors that may affect employees’ mental health, and how organisations can support their employees through this pandemic.