Employers take aim at expected higher levels of employee stress and anxiety, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

More communication, manager training planned; work-from-home policies expected to continue

ARLINGTON, Va., April 27, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A majority of U.S. employers expect to continue their remote work policies and, to a lesser extent, flexible work arrangements after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW). The survey also found that while employers have boosted their employee communication in response to the pandemic, they will need to do more to help workers cope with expected increased levels of stress and anxiety in the months ahead.

Nearly six in 10 respondents (59%) expect their work-from-home policies will remain in effect after the pandemic ends while roughly half (49%) expect to continue offering flexible work arrangements. Employers also anticipate the fallout from the pandemic will have lingering effects on their employees. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) anticipate facing higher than normal levels of employee stress and anxiety over the next three to six months while 60% expect to deal with maintaining employee resiliency.

The crisis has led employers to significantly increase communication with employees. Nearly nine in 10 (88%) have increased communication on health and safety tips while 84% have provided tips on working from home. Three-quarters of respondents (76%) have provided more tips on managing a remote workforce.

“It’s important that employers lay the groundwork now for greater stability in the workplace,” said John Jones, North America head of Talent, Willis Towers Watson. “Initiatives such as work from home, virtual meetings and enhanced communication will shape how workforces operate in a post-crisis world. And learning how to best leverage technology will be essential to support their employee experience.”

Managers receive high marks, but more training, employee listening needed

Almost nine in 10 respondents (89%) said their managers have “stepped up” to support their employees during the crisis while 88% said their organization has been effective at removing obstacles so their employees can do their jobs efficiently. Even more — 92% — said their organization has been effective at providing employees with the technology, tools and resources needed for them to work productively for an extended period of time.

The survey, however, revealed a need for employers to boost training for managers and do more around employee listening. According to the survey, only a quarter of respondents (24%) have increased training and development opportunities for managers during the crisis, but another third (32%) are planning or considering doing so for the balance of 2020. Additionally, only three in 10 (31%) have conducted employee surveys but another 29% will or may do so this year.

“By all accounts, respondents are giving managers and leaders high marks for guiding workers through the crisis so far. At the same time, more formal and regular listening strategies such as employee surveys and virtual focus groups will be needed to keep a pulse on the employee experience amid the pandemic. And employers will need to double down on training and development for managers to prepare them to support employees in what are likely to be different working environments,” said Jones.

The survey found respondents believe changes organizations implemented since the pandemic began are having some positive effects. Sixty-three percent said the changes are having a positive impact on their culture. Additionally, more than half believe the changes are enhancing employee wellbeing (59%), experience (55%) and engagement (52%); however, only 36% believe the changes are improving employee productivity.

The pandemic has also forced many employers to evaluate many of their talent-related strategies. For example, six in 10 respondents (59%) have made changes to their onboarding strategy while 45% have altered their talent acquisition strategy. Only 16% have changed their performance management strategy; however, one in three respondents (32%) are planning or considering changes to their performance review cycle.

“This is a moment of grief, loss and unprecedented change, for many workers. While organizations are doing all the right things in the immediate crisis, they must move on from the essentials to understand the impact on people and build that into their talent and communication strategies,” concluded Jones.

About the survey

More than 200 employers across multiple industries participated in the COVID-19 Talent Implications Survey, which was conducted during the week of April 13, 2020. Respondents employ nearly 2.5 million employees.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at willistowerswatson.com.

Media contact:
Ed Emerman: +1 609 240 2766