The COVID-19 pandemic cost employers US$213 billion 

The COVID-19 pandemic cost employers US$213 billion 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on employee productivity and economic cost. The Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a nonprofit research and educational organisation focused on workforce health and productivity, analysed data from the US Current Population Survey (CPS) to estimate the number of lost hours attributed to the pandemic and the cost associated with the loss of work hours. 

IBI’s analysis estimates that the cost associated with the loss of work hours is US$213.1 billion (US$167.4 billion in the first year and US$45.7 billion in the second year). The number of lost hours attributed to the pandemic was 6.6 billion hours (5.2 billion in the first year and 1.4 billion in the second year).  

Some occupations and industries were particularly hard hit. The top five industries that faced the greatest economic losses were: educational services, health care and social assistance (US$30.8 billion), public administration (US$27.1 billion), construction (US$23.9 billion), waste management services (US$22.4 billion), and manufacturing (US$21.5 billion).  

The first year of the pandemic brought an average increase in lost hours of 39%; however, those who worked as administrative support (46%) or craft workers/artisans (51%) had higher-than-average lost hours. In the second year, occupations collectively recovered an average of 11%. Administrative support (15%) and craft workers (35%) continued to experience higher than average lost hours in the second year. 

Many lower-wage employees could not avoid face-to-face encounters and were hard hit with lost hours. These employees were disproportionately women, people of colour, without a high school diploma and workers over 65. 

How can employers recover from the past two years?  

As employers and employees adapt to the changing dynamics of work, and to better understand how to mitigate further losses, IBI sought input from more than 1,800 employers. Employers emphasised several key points:  

Communication is a key element. Leadership must think differently about how they show up, communicate and interact with employees. Honesty and transparency are the most important part of promoting trust. Communicate broadly and often through multiple channels. 

Trust, safety, and inclusion have heightened importance. Employees’ sense of security can be strengthened by comprehensive programmes, that include financial education and well-being and leave of absence benefit offerings to meet employee needs. 

Employee well-being and productivity may need stabilisation. Benefits and HR professionals can provide a reliable and sustainable business case for investments in workforce health and productivity. Employers have long considered the health of the workforce primarily from the perspective of managing health costs. By treating the health and well-being of the workforce as a strategic asset in a company’s value-added process, employers can create a high-performance workforce. 

The basics, such as preventative screening and well visits, are still valuable. To avoid expensive events, engage employees before their conditions deteriorate. There are now options such as home screenings and on-site services available to offer employees. Develop communication plans to raise employees’ awareness of the benefits of regular preventive checks and highlight options and costs available. 

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