Monster pandemiversary report: How work has changed a year after COVID-19

One year ago, many of us packed up our desks, thinking we would be back in two weeks, tops. Oh, how naive we were back then as we hunkered down and waited for the virus to pass. But here we are, at the one-year COVID-19 anniversary, and the pandemic’s impact on the workforce couldn’t be more profound.

Twelve months later, life and the way we work has drastically changed, leaving no one immune to the unprecedented disruption that has taken place. We’ve experienced mass layoffs in leisure and hospitality and staffing shortages in healthcare. Yet, we’ve also seen great resilience in pandemic-proof industries like tech, logistics, trucking and warehousing.

So, after one year of video conferencing, mask-wearing, and lots and lots of hand washing, where does that leave us today Below, we provided insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to impact the labor market and how we work.

Work from home vs. on-site

“Stay at home” orders were prevalent in many states at the onset of the pandemic, as non-essential workers were told to, well, stay at home. Since then, we’ve swapped suits and ties for sweat pants and slippers, office desks for kitchen tables, and long commutes for a walk across the room.

Now, with a handful of vaccines rolling out, your commute may be getting a little longer as life begins to return to a more normal state. In fact, there is a growing number of employees who are already back in the office. According to a recent Monster poll, the majority (22.3%) of respondents who are currently employed said they are working on-site, compared to the 21.5% who are still working remotely. This aligns closely with BLS findings that show that in February, only 22.7% of people worked remotely last month, down from 35.4% of employed workers in May 2020.

From a hiring standpoint, Monster data shows that candidates searching for “remote” jobs have remained in the top searched location on Monster since March last year. However, over the past couple months, we have seen increases in more location-based searches in states like California, Texas, and New Jersey and in cities including Atlanta and Houston.

Looking ahead, Monster CEO Scott Gutz predicts a gradual return to the office for some industries. “I predict that despite virtual and flexible work options continuing, we will also see an increase to some approach to an in-person work environment, especially as the vaccines become more available.”

Working parents: the struggle is real

It almost goes without saying that being a working parent amid COVID-19 has been no easy feat. With school schedules still in flux in many parts of the country, there has been no relief for working parents throughout the past year. Rather, parents working remotely are left to figure out how to balance childcare and school with work projects and video meetings.

COVID-19’s impact on women in the workforce has been especially challenging. 4.3 million U.S. women dropped out of the labor market between February and December 2020, and women were three times as likely as men to stop working due to childcare issues. This focus on women at work has drawn a lot of attention from organizations such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and many companies are now considering ways to help women return and thrive after COVID-19, including more flexible schedules and open-mindedness to employment gaps.

While there are some companies who have made adjustments to better accommodate working families during COVID-19, there is still much more than can be done.

In a Monster poll, 65% of parents said they feel stress or anxiety about their child going back to school amidst COVID-19, while only 21% said they strongly agree that their company is supporting them in that regard. When asked what they think a company could do to best support parents with children, three-quarters (75%) said work schedule flexibility would go a long way.

Anxiety, stress, and insecurities persist throughout the pandemic

While social distancing has emerged as one of the most effective ways to combat COVID-19, it can also make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. And with the lines between home and work blurred, it’s only natural that these feelings of anxiety and stress have affected the way people feel about their current job situation.

Not surprisingly, in July, over two-thirds of workers (69%) experienced burnout symptoms while working from home during the pandemic—almost 35% higher than early May.

Further research in Monster’s Global Future of Work report in late 2020, shows that the global pandemic, coupled with forced work-from-home, has been tough on workers’ mental wellbeing. In fact, 46% of global respondents reported that they had job-related anxiety and/or depression in the last year.

The impact of a year of social isolation is starting to show: 11% of respondents are experiencing loneliness. Recent research from Harvard University illustrates that this is becoming more prevalent in students and young adults, which has looming implications for the newest entrants in the workforce.

This anxiety and stress is likely a product of other facets of “normal” life that have fallen by the wayside as well. Respondents’ biggest challenges and struggles in the past year include over a third (36%) struggling with maintaining physical health, a quarter (25%) struggling with maintaining mental health, and 24% struggling with making genuine personal connections.

Workplace safety remains a top priority despite vaccines rollout

In the early days of the pandemic, there were many unknowns. Are masks effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19? Is one mask enough? How long could the virus live on surfaces? With no known cure or vaccine at the onset of the pandemic, the world was a scary place, and candidates certainly weren’t willing to compromise their health and safety to find employment. In fact, last summer, Monster research showed that only 28% of candidates were eager to return to work.

And as far back as last May, an overwhelming majority of employers (85.5%) anticipated leveraging video conferencing for critical meetings instead of conducting in-person meetings, even after offices reopen. If virtual meetings continue after the pandemic subsides, will Zoom etiquette and proficiency become a factor not only in job interviews but in overall job performance reviews?

Now, with multiple vaccines in play and more information known about the virus, there is a possibility that candidates’ concerns may eventually ease. However, with the pandemic expected to rage on for at least the third or fourth quarter of 2021, you can expect that candidates will continue to have concerns about how serious an employer takes workplace safety for the time being.

Productivity increases as workers adapt to the ‘new normal’

A year ago, the idea of working from home was typically either a once-in-a-while or a never-at-all occasion, depending on the strictness or flexibility of the workplace. After all, how could employees, with no supervision, be just as productive at home with the distraction of children, pets, and household chores to keep them preoccupied?

Back then, not many people would have thought that what we know today is possible: employees can be just as productive at home as they are in the office. Now that workers have gotten into a groove working from home, productivity levels are right where they should be. According to a recent Monster poll, more than three-quarters of remote workers (77%) say they are equally productive working from home, compared to their in-person work setting pre-pandemic, yet half of workers (50%) still feel stress and anxiety is impacting their overall productivity.

Unemployment rate continues to decline after initial spike

There is no sugar-coating the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the job market, especially early on. The market completely tanked, and the unemployment rate spiked to its peak of 14.7% in April 2020. However, since then, more and more people have slowly returned to work over the past year. Most recently in February, the BLS reported that the unemployment rate continued to drop to 6.3%, or 10 million people currently without work.

While a shrinking unemployment rate may seem like great news at first glance, a broader measure that includes people who have given up on their job searches shows that it may be closer to 10%. While this percentage is lower compared to the unemployment rate reported last year, it’s clear that there is still much work to be done to help people find gainful employment today.

“It’s disheartening that more than half a million Americans feel discouraged that there are no jobs available for them and 47% are distressed, insecure, or anxious, about their job situation,” Gutz reflected on recent jobs research. “Yet, I’m encouraged by the latest jobs reports showing gains, indicating that a shift in the jobs market is underway as well as our latest research, which shows that a majority of recruiters plan to hire this year and three-quarters of workers feel productive. The resiliency of the workforce will persevere and we look forward to getting all of us back to work in the not too distant future.”

Industries are rebounding but there is still a way to go

As previously mentioned, the labor market experienced historic declines at the onset of the pandemic. After 870,000 jobs were cut in March, another 20.5 million jobs were lost the following month in nearly every industry. According to the Wall Street Journal, April 2020 was the steepest monthly loss on record since the end of World War II in 1945 when the labor market declined by 1.96 million jobs.

Fortunately, the job market has continued to rebound since the initial devastating blow of the pandemic. As the number of COVID-19 cases declines and more vaccines are distributed, employers have become more optimistic about the future. According to the Monster Future of Work Survey, 82% of employers plan on hiring in 2021, including 37% who plan to re-hire backfill jobs and 35% who plan on hiring for net new jobs.

As shown in the most recent BLS jobs report and on Monster, many employers are already making good on their hiring plans. Last month, the BLS reported gains of 379,000 jobs in a number of industries that were hit hard this past year, including leisure and hospitality, healthcare, retail, and more. On Monster, we’ve seen solid increases in both new jobs posted and candidates searching for work—another sign that the labor market may be on the upswing.

Despite this great growth, however, it’s important to keep in mind that there is still a long way to go. According to the BLS, employment is still down 9.5 million, or 6.2% from its pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.

Stay on top of the COVID-19 pandemic

Monster aims to provide employers with the insight needed to move forward. As you plan your hiring strategy over the next month, see how Monster can help you navigate the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic at your organization.