This surprising group of people is having the hardest time with the pandemic

If your New Year’s resolution for 2020 was to worry more, this year certainly provided plenty of ways for you to meet your goal. Indeed, COVID-19 has caused unprecedented upticks in depression, stress, and anxiety.

One of the most concerning aspects of the coronavirus pandemic has been the rapid loss of income for so many among us. Tens of millions of Americans have filed for unemployment since the spring, and it’s unclear if some of those positions (airline workers, hotel staff, etc) will ever return. 

It’s easy to understand how distressing the loss of a job is for the parties involved, but what impact has the unemployment rate in 2020 had on those still working?

A new study from the University of Connecticut has found that concerns over job security and stable, steady income have been perhaps the biggest predictors of subsequent stress, anxiety, and depression among employed Americans this year. 

Considering the wealth of other coronavirus-related topics to stress over or feel anxious about, such as one’s health or the well-being of loved ones, these findings speak to just how economically devastating COVID-19 has been. Even for people lucky enough to have maintained steady employment through the pandemic, finance-related anxiety has increased considerably.

Feeling secure and appreciated at one’s job has always been important, but creeping worries about one’s place in their company (“Am I expendable? Replaceable?”) take on an entirely new level of intensity during a pandemic. 

“The impact the virus and the pandemic is having on the economy and employment is not surprisingly taking a big toll,” says principal investigator Natalie J. Shook, a social psychologist, associate professor in the School of Nursing, in a release.

“We definitely are seeing, within our employed participants, higher rates of anxiety than in individuals who indicated they were not employed,” she continues. “Controlling for demographics, controlling for income level, and also taking into account participant health and concerns about COVID – and the extent to which people were engaging in social distancing or quarantine – we are seeing that job security and financial concerns are the significant predictors associated with anxiety and depression.”

These findings are part of a larger research project investigating how a major widespread health risk (COVID-19) influences people’s behaviors and attitudes over time. Roughly 1,000 Americans have had their feelings, behaviors, concerns, and overall well-being tracked this year (18 completed surveys since March). It’s important to note that most unemployed Americans included in this research were retirees.

Each of those surveys asked participants about their daily feelings of anxiousness and nervousness and whether or not they could control those intrusive feelings. Also, many questions focused on finances and employment specifically. 

For example, some questions included: “How worried are you about your financial and employment situation?” “Do you expect your financial situation to get worse over the next 12 months?” “Do you currently have enough money to provide shelter and food for your family for the next year?”

Generally speaking, pretty much all participants expressed at least some concern about their careers and finances. On a more detailed level, greater financial worries were linked to greater anxiety symptoms and more feelings of job insecurity were associated with worse depression symptoms. Researchers were sure to account for demographics, health concerns, and COVID-19 experiences while compiling these results.

“Our results demonstrate the potential adverse consequences that job insecurity and financial concern have on employee mental health,” the study concludes. “Based on these findings, for those experiencing depressive symptoms during the pandemic, it may be particularly important for employers to be mindful and try to minimize feelings of uncertainty for the employees, as well as instilling hope or agency in employees. For those experiencing anxiety symptoms, employers could attempt to reduce financial concerns by allowing employees to continue to work (eg, telework), even with reduced hours and income, to ensure that employees do not lose their entire income.”

It would certainly behoove employers to help their employees feel more secure nowadays. A worried, tense workforce isn’t going to help a company’s bottom line or its workers’ well-being.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.