Mental well-being, returning to the workplace and COVID-19

Two masked coworkers chat in their open-concept office.

While the COVID-19 pandemic displaced much of the American workforce — and drastically increased remote work — worksites are beginning to reopen. At the same time, things are changing, at times very quickly due to the COVID-19 Delta variant.

This has led to managers and employees facing a whole new set of challenges to their mental well-being. 

Aetna, a CVS Health company, continues to examine the impact COVID-19 has had on the mental and emotional health of the nation. Our latest white paper, “Mental well-being and return to the workplace in the midst of COVID-19” (PDF) surveys employees’ attitudes about leaving full-time remote work and shares resources that could best support the transition. 

According to the survey, seven in ten Americans working either in the private or public sector say COVID-19 changed their workplace location. Among this group, half say they have already returned to an office or on-site location, whether full-time or part-time, and an additional 15 percent expect to do so by the end of 2021.

These changes are having an impact. Four in ten employed Americans who have experienced or are experiencing changes to their work location in 2021 say these changes are causing them stress. However, much like the impact of COVID-19 itself, female respondents are nine percentage points more likely than male respondents to say the changes are causing significantly or somewhat more stress (47 percent versus 38 percent).

More specifically, just under 50 percent continue to have concerns about their health and safety; just over a third are concerned about returning to an office too quickly.

Family disruptions are also a cause for worry, as 47 percent of respondents are stressed about balancing work and family, and 46 percent worry about the loss of in-person time with family. More than four in ten employed Americans similarly say that a return to the workplace also means losing time for well-being routines and habits, such as exercise. 

Gender differences continue to stand out, as most female workers (53 percent) report stress from balancing work and family responsibilities and/or the sudden change in their routines, compared to just over four in ten male respondents. Women are also 15 points more likely than male respondents to experience stress from fears about their health and safety.

“Many individuals view returning to the workplace as a positive development after a year and a half of COVID-19 restrictions,” says Cara McNulty, DPA, President, Aetna Behavioral Health, “but for many others, it is only the latest way the pandemic is impacting their mental health and pushing their ability to be resilient. Stress may impact work performance or further affect those who are already burnt out. As worksites ‘open fully’ it is critical that we continue to connect individuals to mental health resources and care.”

Employers can help ease the transition back to the office for their employees by focusing on safety and work-life balance policies. In the Aetna survey, 75 percent of employed Americans who have experienced or are experiencing changes to their work location this year noted that more communication from their employer would be very or somewhat beneficial, and 68 percent say that in-office safety measures and guidelines would also help. 

Moreover, 75 percent also said that more flexibility from their employer regarding work arrangements or updated policies to improve work-life balance (68 percent) would be beneficial. 

The path to mental wellness is not always an easy one, but CVS Health is making mental well-being services more accessible, less complicated, more convenient and more inviting. Read our full white paper (PDF) to learn about the latest resources and tips for employers to ease the transition back to the workplace. 

The poll referenced in this article was conducted between July 8 and July 11, 2021 among a national sample of 867 employed adults. The interviews were conducted online, and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on gender, educational attainment, age, race and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. Of the 867 employed adults surveyed, 618 had their work locations affected by COVID-19, with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.