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Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

5 Survey Takeaways: One Year Into COVID, What Are Your Employees Feeling?

One Year Into COVID6-minute read

“The days are long, but the years are short," observed best-selling author Gretchen Rubin. And while she was referring to the challenges of  motherhood, I believe her quote has an almost universal relevancy as we mark the one-year anniversary since the  COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives. Because if you’re like me, these twelve months of stress, quarantine, and isolation have been a truly disorienting experience, warping our perception of time and space. 

That’s why I found the landmark Workhuman® survey, “One Year Into COVID: The Pandemic’s Impact on How We Work,” a timely and poignant bookend to the year we’ve been through.  Conducted in February on the eve of the lockdown anniversary, the survey polled more than 1,000 U.S. workers, aged 18-75+, across a broad range of industries, departments, and positions (entry-level to CEO). Its findings offer a broad, high-level view of the impact this past year has had on employees.  

I’ve highlighted the survey’s key findings here, but I urge you to take a moment to read the full report. I’m sure you’ll find its insights a revealing encapsulation of the challenges we’ve experience this past year. 

Takeaway 1: Employees are feeling the strain. 

As you might expect, survey respondents report feeling more anxious (37%), isolated (31%), overwhelmed (28%), and less motivated (24%). So what’s causing the strain for workers? By an overwhelming margin, 59% of those surveyed cited “less human connection.” 

That’s a big deal because, as Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine point out in their book, “Making Work Human,” “Today’s companies are a series of teams. That’s where the strongest employee connections are built. Team engagement is a critical component of the employee experience, more significant to overall satisfaction than general company engagement.”   

During the pandemic, when the need for connection and belonging within our work family has never been greater, the challenges of maintaining a vibrant and connected employee community have been amplified. That’s why it’s critical that organizations redouble their efforts to celebrate, inspire, engage, and strengthen the connections that make them resilient. 

One of the best ways to do that? The solutions of Workhuman Cloud® – especially Service Milestones®Life Events®, and Community Celebrations® – can forge the connections and sense of community that will lift your organization. Even in times like these. 

Takeaway 2: Gratitude is a positive force in the workplace.  

How does gratitude impact the workplace? According to survey respondents, there are a number of ways – and all of them good. It increases their motivation to succeed (31%), boosts productivity (25%), solidifies a sense of purpose (16%), promotes retention (15%), and encourages deeper connections (14%).  

An interesting sub-theme of this takeaway were the findings on gender differences.  

As you can see, 27% of the men polled  reported that they “always” received a “thank you” from their  employer and/or colleague, compared to just 19% of women. Such a discrepancy has significant repercussions – such as retention – and comes at a time when women especially need the affirmation recognition provides for their workplace achievements.  

As a Fortune article notes, the pandemic has taken a far greater toll on women than their male counterparts: “Recent projections based on economic scenarios modeled by McKinsey and Oxford Economics estimate that employment for women may not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 – two full years after a recovery for men.” The article adds that, “One of the main drivers of this disparity is the increased burden of unpaid care – shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids and parents in the household – which is disproportionately carried by women.”  

“As a society, we can’t afford to have the attrition we’ve seen with women throughout this pandemic,” says Workhuman CHRO Steve Pemberton in a CNBC article. “That type of talent loss has all kinds of repercussions that companies just can’t afford to deal with right now.” 

The bottom line? Yes, gratitude is a powerful workplace force. But it’s incumbent upon employers to create a culture in which it is shared equally – throughout the organization. 

Takeaway 3: Offering “thanks” drives a more human workplace. 

What does workplace humanity look like? For 60% of those surveyed, it’s about offering “thanks” and gratitude. No surprise there. Volumes of research prove that creating a culture of recognition, nurtured by an employee recognition solution such as Workhuman’s Social Recognition®, is directly tied to creating a more human workplace. In fact, I might argue they are one and the same.   

But take a look at what came in second: “Celebrating accomplishments and milestones.” In fact, all of the following responses to this question center around the notion of connection, community, and sharing. 

 The need to belong – to be a member of a community – has always been a part the human condition. And during this past year, that need has become even greater and more keenly felt. Celebrating the achievements and milestones of our work family – even in a virtual format – cultivates belonging and enables employees to come together and grow as a team. 

When the lockdown began last March, we at Workhuman gathered each Friday morning for a company Zoom meeting with our co-founder and CEO, Eric Mosley. It became a time for Eric to share with us recent challenges, but positive news as well. In one of the most heartwarming and uplifting moments of the meeting, Eric shared the latest employee milestones. Everything from new babies to new homes, to new roles in the company. As he pointed out at the time, even in the middle of a pandemic crisis, “life goes on.”  

Takeaway 4: Employers should do more to support employee mental health. 

At last spring’s Workhuman® Livestream, just a few months into the crisis, best-selling author and TED talk superstar Simon Sinek sounded the warning. Many of us, he said, were already in “mission mode,” and cautioned that we would eventually need to deal with the emotional strain the pandemic has inflicted. His insights proved to be prescient. As he predicted, the crisis revealed the importance of culture during times of stress.  

As we mark one year of the pandemic, how can employers best support the mental health of their workers? While 39% of employees believe their employer is currently doing everything they can, 22% cited the need to build a culture of connection.   



That’s followed by verbal support (16%), inclusivity (15%), and over-communicating (10%). 

When it comes to the mental health of your employees, the need for connection, community, and communication cannot be over-emphasized. 



Takeaway 5: The future of work is still human. 

The report concludes by reminding us that – while the pandemic might have changed the way we work – the future of work is, and will continue to be, human. Today, the challenge is even greater for organizations to create a human-centric culture, “one where work practices are grounded in gratitude, connection, and positivity.” 

“Thriving in the future of work,” the report notes, “means making appreciation and organization-wide recognition a core value of your business culture. After all, disruptions are inevitable, and the business environment will always be dynamic.” 

As we mark one year of COVID-19, those words ring resoundingly true.