How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the global workforce?

The past year has been like no other. Working practices were turned on their heads, employers and workers have had to rethink accepted norms, while adapting quickly to an uncertain, fast-changing world.

To assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employees today, between 17 November and 11 December 2020 the ADP Research Institute surveyed 32,471 workers in 17 countries worldwide, including over 8,567 working in the gig economy*.1

Some key themes emerged:

Worker confidence and job security


Fears of job security have compelled 76% of workers to take on extra tasks or assume a heavier workload, with more than a half (55%) of essential workers and a third of non-essential workers (34%) shouldering extra duties during the pandemic.

Workplace conditions


Unpaid overtime has soared to 9.2 hours per week on average, in line with a shift to flexible working practices (up from 7.3 just a year ago.)

Pay and performance


The pandemic has highlighted issues with incorrect and late payments, with more than three in five workers (63%) affected this year.

Worker mobility


Workers are reassessing where and how they live with 75% of the global workforce having made changes or planning to change their living arrangements. This rises to 85% of Generation Z (18-24 year-olds).

The picture is complex

The research shows that despite the general sense of optimism surrounding the pandemic’s impact, unease around job security dominates how workers feel today:
 

  • 85% of workers have had concerns about their job or financial security
  • Nearly two thirds of the global workforce (64%) have been impacted professionally, with more than a quarter (28%) having either lost a job, been furloughed or temporarily laid off by their employer
  • The most recent age bracket to enter the workforce - 18-24-year-olds - has been hardest hit, with nearly four in five (78%) finding their professional lives affected and two in five (39%) saying they lost jobs, were furloughed or temporarily laid off by their employer

However:
 

  • Remote workers are no more (in fact even marginally less) likely than their colleagues in the office or onsite to report that maintaining productivity is a major challenge for them (10% compared to 13%)
  • More than two thirds (67%) of workers now feel empowered to take advantage of flexible working arrangements at their companies, up from just over a quarter (26%) before the pandemic
  • For some workers who have had to take on a new role or embrace new responsibilities, nearly seven in 10 (68%) have received a pay rise or a bonus for their efforts

Regional differences exist

Gig work


The appetite for gig work has increased, particularly in Asia Pacific (17%) and Latin America (23%), holding steady in Europe (17%) and declining in North America (15%).

Gender pay


In Europe, managing stress at work due to the impact of COVID-19 is affecting more women than men (17% versus 12%). This may relate to women being given less additional flexibility with company working arrangements than male colleagues.

Optimism


Optimism about the next five years in the workplace was lowest in Europe at 71% and highest in APAC at 90% and Latin America at 85%.

Job security


Fears of job insecurity have compelled three quarters to take on extra tasks or work longer hours, especially in APAC (39%) and Latin America (34%), but less in Europe (21%) and North America (27%).

Overtime


APAC leads the world in the highest amount of unpaid overtime, with a weekly average of 9.9 hours.

Pay


Workers in Chile were most likely (61%) in Latin America to receive a pay rise or bonus for taking on additional responsibilities due to COVID-related job losses. This compares to 56% in Brazil and 54% in Argentina.

Moving forward

The report highlights that for many people, juggling their various personal needs while meeting their work requirements has been tricky - and the struggles are consistent across the globe. Staying healthy has been the biggest challenge, followed by meeting the demands of both work and family, managing stress, maintaining productivity and managing workloads. In all regions except for APAC, stress management ranks as a greater challenge for women than it does for men – something that employers will want to be particularly alert to.


To navigate the multiple challenges and opportunities exposed by the pandemic, leadership will be as important as listening and learning at all levels. A dynamic organisational culture that finds ways to reduce stress and anxiety will play a vital part in creating the right conditions for workers and the whole enterprise to survive and thrive.

1Gig workers self-identified as those who work on a contingent, temporary, or seasonal basis, or as a freelancer, independent contractor, consultant, gig worker, or use an online platform to source work.

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