Cigna’s International Markets business recently published the third edition of its COVID-19 Global Impact Study, which sheds new light on the impact of the virus on global perceptions of health and well-being. The report reveals that:
Feeling the financial crunch
COVID-19 has already inflicted the biggest peacetime economic shock since the Great Depression of 1928. After nine months, the pandemic is having an impact on people’s perception of their financial future.
This report reveals that people are increasingly concerned about their ability to afford housing with only 27% of people globally saying they are confident they can keep up with their payments. In individual markets there are more stark differences. In the United States, people’s confidence in their ability to pay for their housing costs has fallen by 10% over the last quarter (36% Aug vs. 46% June) and in Hong Kong, there has been a drop of 6% (11% Aug vs 17% June).
Today, nearly half (49%) of global respondents say the economic environment will have a negative impact on their financial situation and planning. In Hong Kong, we’ve seen an 11% rise in the number of people anticipating their financial situation will get worse (63% Aug vs. 52% Jan). Meanwhile, in Singapore, we’ve seen a 5% rise (52% Aug vs 47% Jan and in the UK a 4% rise (43% Aug vs. 39% Jan).
Jason Sadler, President, Cigna International Markets said: “Across the board, the results exhibit a sense of reluctant acceptance that we are in this long-term with profound impacts for our lives and especially future financial confidence. The slow recovery of confidence and optimism has significant implications for staff management as we face the repeated return of restrictions and an escalation of infections as the northern hemisphere heads into winter.”
See also: Financial Education as Employee Benefit
Realism about the long-term
People have also become resigned to the potential of a constant cycle of lockdowns as the world deals with the virus. Despite most international markets not being in lockdown when the survey was conducted in August, 50% of people globally said they did not think COVID-19 would go away and it will be a seasonal disease. This was most acutely felt in Thailand (59%), Hong Kong (57%), the UK (56%) and jointly Spain and Taiwan (55%).
People are also cautious about the prospect of a vaccine. Forty-five percent of respondents of respondents worldwide expect a vaccine to become available in the first half of 2021, with 23% expecting it in the second half of 2021, and 18% hopeful about one being available in 2020. Some, such as the UAE, are more optimistic where 39% expect a vaccine this year. However, others, especially the UK and New Zealand are gloomier with 29% of Kiwis saying that a vaccine won’t come until 2022 or never, and 22% of Brits saying the same.
Predictors of stress
Overall global stress levels remain high with 83% of people saying they are stressed, although this has remained consistent throughout the pandemic. ‘Always on’ working rates have also remained high, with 79% of people reporting they are checking emails and being constantly available after office hours or over the weekends, up from 76% in June and January.
Sadler continued: “With ‘always on’ working remaining high, and people facing multiple pressures in their personal lives, businesses will need to continue to develop assessments and prepare for the long haul of the pandemic. Being able to identify, mitigate and manage excessive stress burdens will help ensure that team members feel supported and in-turn ensure better outcomes for businesses.”
Having gathered data on people’s responses to COVID-19 throughout the year, we found a number of factors that could often indicate the presence of stress. In particular, we see that one of the largest drivers of personal stress is observed stress in one’s spouse or partner, especially when that partner is unable to concentrate, becomes negative or is lacking productivity.
We also found variables that helped mitigate the impact of stress. A number of work-related measures have a significant impact, such as job stability, good career development and good work-life balance, presenting clear opportunities for employers to support their teams.
Changes to working habits have become ingrained
Extending from the last report, we see that working from home preferences have become more embedded, with 56% saying they want to continue to work from home at least half the time in the future, increasing from 53% in June. The largest increases were seen in Hong Kong where they rose by 13% between June and August (60% Aug vs. 47% June), Spain rose by 6% (62% Aug vs. 56% June) and the UAE rose 8% (54% Aug vs. 46% June). Interestingly, the UK saw a decline of 9% (45% June vs. 54% Aug) suggesting that some weariness about ongoing home working is being felt.
Support networks bolster resilience
While the third edition of the COVID-19 Global Impact Study clearly shows that the pandemic exerts a toll on well-being, there are encouraging signs of people’s resilience and their creativity in adapting to circumstances.
Family and friends were cited by 53% of respondents as the main source of resilience, above government (43%), health services (36%) and employers (26%). Families were feeling positive (particularly in comparison to other indicators) about the amount of time they were spending together, the quality of that time, and being able to take care of spouse’s, partner’s and children’s well-being.
Sadler concluded, “The evidence shows that time with friends and family is the leading driver of resilience. Therefore, it’s critical that we enable people to spend quality time with their loved ones, rather than simply focusing on work outcomes if we are to emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient.”