Employee resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic

ADP looked at the first 8 weeks of the global pandemic and found the workplace handled challenges and adapted to the new normal.

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The urgency to isolate sent many employees—who could—from the office to work from home (WFH), essential workers to risk the wrath of the coronavirus, and those who couldn't WFH, to look for alternatives. Even though it's on the slow road back, unemployment took a huge hit, and the American workforce was disrupted in a way that was unprecedented. ADP Research Institute conducted a survey to take a detailed look at how US workers were affected and dealt with the global pandemic.

Quick adaptation to the new normal

ADP revealed that one in four workers found their workplace closed, and this coincided with job losses. But even though there were those who could continue working, the experience was dramatically different, than just a few weeks prior. Employers scrambled to initiate new rules and regulations regarding the completion of work. 

In week one of the national emergency, 17% of workers were required to WFH, and by week two, the number leapt to more than one in four. 

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

Telecommuting on the rise

From week one to week two of the crisis, the percentage of telecommuters went from 28% to 44%, and remained so for the following six weeks. Employees who weren't able (or allowed) to WFH previously contributed to the increase in telecommuting.

In week one, 63% reported they WFH everyday, and that number rose to 68% in week two. For those who could "do little work" from home, 27% did so everyday in week one,  and 46% in week two. Those who could not WFH, reported 6% WFH daily, and 19% said they WFH daily.

Stress levels rise

A combination of fear of COVID-19, childcare constraints, home schooling, technical difficulties, and the challenge of completing their jobs in a new environment contributed to a leap in stress levels in the first few weeks of the pandemic. But by week three and week four, issues were less impactful on employees' assignments. Issues were less likely to get worse each week, even though communication with others, a work-life balance and stress levels didn't necessarily improve.

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same--here's what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Productivity takes a hit

Despite the relatively smooth-ish switch to new ways of working, productivity hasn't quite reached pre-pandemic levels. What didn't bounce back:

  • Working hours
  • Frequency of communication with others
  • Ability to complete assigned tasks

Key obstacles

  • Technical difficulties
  • Internet connectivity
  • Insufficient equipment
  • Stress around COVID-19 

The last on the list did eventually trend downward over the few weeks, but technical difficulties remained obstacles. 

Financial woes

A majority of the respondents were optimistic that their finances would return to previous levels in less than six months; 62% who kept their jobs cited a financial setback or expected one soon.

Week three of the survey represented a period when employees were "least confident in their ability to retain jobs" (and this coincided with unemployment figures). Still, with media declarations of stock-market successes, the Payroll Protection Program, and the reopening of local businesses, there was a boost in confidence and 70% expect to keep their job for at least another month.

Those who lost their jobs, approximately one in three expected to return to work within the month. 

SEE: COVID-19: A guide and checklist for restarting your business (TechRepublic Premium)

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Image: ADPRI

Employers' responses were impactful

The majority of employees surveyed said their employers took action in response to the pandemic, but there were specific actions that were more important than others. Employees responded well to and were most satisfied with:

Sharing positive messages

  • Facilitating WFH
  • Encouragement during virtual communications

The most satisfied of those surveyed expressed the most interest in keeping their current job than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Image: ADPIR

Money matters

The ADP National Employment Report recorded a 20+ million job loss for April 2020, and this refers to both job losses and furloughs. In week one, employees who could not WFH report they were paid by their employer. As the weeks went by, and fewer workers received pay, and more applied for unemployment.

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Image: ADPIR

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Eight-week review

ADP's report closely examined the first eight weeks of workplace response to the pandemic: "In reviewing the first eight weeks of workplace response to this global pandemic, it is clear that employees and employers adapted quickly to a new way of working, and the workplace has shown resilience in overcoming the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. What is not clear at this early date is the extent to which these actions in the workplace will become permanent. The only thing that seems certain is that changes are likely coming to the world of work in the future." 

Some employers found WFH so productive, they made it permanent (i.e. Twitter). Telecommuting is the new black, as well as the new normal. Employers response to the crisis has been generally very well received by employees. 

Methodology

On Friday, March 13, a national emergency was declared, and starting March 16 (considered week one) ADPRI began surveying 24,000 employed adults, 18 and older.

Also see

The latest cancellations: How the coronavirus is disrupting tech conferences worldwide (TechRepublic)
Coronavirus having major effect on tech industry beyond supply chain delays (free PDF) (TechRepublic download)
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As coronavirus spreads, here's what's been canceled or closed (CBS News)
Coronavirus: Effective strategies and tools for remote work during a pandemic (ZDNet)
How to track the coronavirus: Dashboard delivers real-time view of the deadly virus (ZDNet)
Coronavirus and COVID-19: All your questions answered (CNET)
Coronavirus: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)