Job Anxiety From COVID-19: Are You Back to Work?

written by Skye Sherman - Jul 27, 2020
medically reviewed by Dr. Tolulope Olabintan, MD - Mar 1, 2022

Photo Credit: by Mark Langdon,
Photo Credit: by Mark Langdon,

Here at Canadian Pharmacy World, the team recently conducted a survey to gauge the state of the workplace now that the coronavirus pandemic has had a few months to hit and settle in for the long haul.

When COVID-19 first came on the scene, it caused a massive global shake-up, and many offices and businesses closed, whether temporarily or permanently. In the corporate world and beyond, thousands of employees were forced to transition to working from home with very little notice.

However, now that a few months have passed, most people have grown used to the new normal. When it comes to your job and career, a task that you spend many of your waking hours on, it can be hard to adjust to major changes that were not part of the picture when you first signed up. On the other hand, many people seem to be enjoying the evolution of their work life, even if the unfortunate cause for it is a global pandemic.

That’s why we set out to conduct a survey of over 130 people: to determine what the true sentiment is surrounding job anxiety, the new workplace, the end of office centricity, and career satisfaction now that COVID-19 is part of the picture. We wanted to find out if people are back to work, what their new work life looks like, how comfortable they are with the new health and safety measures (or lack thereof), whether they are suffering from job anxiety, and more.

In the survey, we also take a look at what these employees are hoping, expecting, or demanding from their employers, and what their rights are when it comes to weighing their job obligations versus their feelings of personal safety. Below, we share the results of our job anxiety survey. Read on to learn more about how workers are feeling about their new normal, and get a peek of what the workplace may look like in the years to come.

The demographics

We surveyed 78 women and 55 men. The majority of survey respondents were in the 25-34 age range, though we had respondents of every age between 16 and 75-plus. Half are employed full-time while 20% are employed part-time and 6% are furloughed, over 8% are laid off, and 15% are retired. Of the respondents, nearly 20% had been laid off due to COVID-19. Of the people still working, 47% are working from home and 52% are not.

Feelings about workplace safety during the pandemic

Now that you have a feel for the people surveyed, we can take a look at their feelings toward workplace safety during the pandemic. There is a diverse selection of people at all different stages in their job and in all different situations, some who are still working and some who are not. They all seem to agree on a few things, however.

To the question “When you consider returning to work, do you feel worried about workplace safety during the pandemic?” over 65% of respondents answered “yes.” But, in general, survey respondents seemed to feel that the world will “return to normal” sometime over the next 12 months.

The new normal when it comes to jobs

Now that so much of the workforce has realized that they can do their jobs from anywhere, including home, will we ever see a massive migration back to offices? The jury is out on that one. What’s telling is that about 62% of respondents reported that they prefer to work from home rather than in a typical office environment. This suggests that giving employees the option to work from home wherever possible may lead to increased levels of job satisfaction.

Coronavirus rights and you: Are you required to return to work?

Do employees have the right to demand an alternative situation if they no longer feel safe or comfortable in their former office setting? An article in TIME reports on workers’ coronavirus rights, which your employer may be required to inform you of before requiring you to come back to work.

“Generally speaking, an employer can fire you if you refuse to come back to work. Most workers in the United States are employed ‘at will,’ meaning that an employer can fire them for any reason that is not deemed illegal … Being nervous about the coronavirus likely won’t be enough to legally protect you if you refuse to come back to work. Unless you have legal justification (or employer authorization), refusing to work will ‘constitute a resignation from employment,’ … [However,] several federal laws may provide workers with that legal justification.”

In other words, in most cases you can’t refuse to return to the office just because you don’t feel comfortable. That is, unless you have a valid reason that is legally justifiable. Some of these include the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), which grants workers the right to refuse to work if they believe workplace conditions could cause them serious imminent harm, and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects employees in the private sector if they go “on strike” together with other employees because they feel their workplace is unsafe.

Another law that protects workers is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which covers those who work in the private sector for an employer with less than 500 employees and have COVID-19, COVID-19 symptoms, or have been quarantined by a doctor or government. In this case, employees are allowed to take two full weeks of paid sick leave at their regular pay rate, and their employer can’t make them come into the office during that sick leave. The FFCRA also covers those who are unable to work because they’re caring for someone who has been quarantined: in this case, employees are granted two weeks of paid sick leave at two-thirds pay.

62% of survey respondents felt that employers should not be allowed to require in-office work.

Should employers help with your COVID-19 anxiety?

Another telling survey question was in regards to whether employees feel their employer should offer assistance with COVID-19 anxiety: over 72% said yes. For people feeling anxiety about returning to work, Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, M.D., MPH, recommends things like:

* Do everything you can to help protect yourself and others from getting sick.

* Use resources offered to you to help cope with the changes and emotions.

* Try to embrace the return to structure.

* Try to make sure you are getting a healthy night’s sleep.

* Remember – it is okay and normal to feel anxious. There is nothing wrong with feeling anxious about changes and uncertain times, and you are not alone in these feelings.

While most of these are things you must do on your own, most workers feel it’s important that their employer take a sympathetic and safe approach to the workplace during this time. In addition, they also want to see their employers providing access to preventative protocols, such as social distancing, handwashing stations, tissues, hand sanitizers, or the option to stay at home if any employee displays symptoms.

How can employers help relieve job anxiety and ensure safety?

Over 56% of respondents said their company is providing access to preventative protocols, while 15% said they’re not and another nearly 29% are staying home. Fortunately, 69% said they’re happy with the protocols, while the rest wanted to see greater actions taken in the name of safety and hygiene.

Other steps respondents said they would like to see their employers take include:

* Mandatory face masks

* Permanent remote policy

* Hand sanitizer available for all employees

* Cleaning the office more often

* Have some working from home and some in the office

* Provide PPE or an allowance to do so

* Provide gloves

* Seek employee input

* Hazard pay

* Provide appropriate cleaning supplies

* Provide counseling benefits because there has been extreme stress and anxiety because of the coronavirus

* Paid and available testing, with results returned within 48 hours and mandatory contact tracing (sign in and out of rooms)

* Greater flexibility with work-from-home

* Safety training classes

* Let at-risk employees stay home

Safety is important, especially when you take into account that some employees may fall into the high-risk category for contracting COVID-19, whether you know it or not. We asked respondents if they have an underlying health condition that makes them more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, and while nearly 72% said no, others reported conditions like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, asthma and other respiratory conditions, age, hemochromatosis, autoimmune disorders, obesity, high blood pressure, celiac disease, pneumonia, or just being generally immunocompromised. Many of these are invisible illnesses, so just because an employee does not look or seem sick, that does not mean they’re not vulnerable to the virus.

Keep in mind that 20% of respondents had considered quitting their job due to COVID-19 protocols they did not feel comfortable with, so this is an issue that employers must take seriously and treat sensitively. Herd immunity may be the eventual goal for some, but even now, only 7.52% of respondents reported that they had been diagnosed with COVID-19, so the threat is still very real and imminent for most.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.