The COVID-19 pandemic has affected economies, societies and individuals in every way. The growing number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, lockdowns, substantial restrictions on public life and the economic crisis are likely to negatively impact personal wellbeing and mental health [1
]. With the COVID-19 outbreak has come increased global business and economic disruption, as well as uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is creating unfathomable loss and disruption. Business operations have been challenged with this new reality, and some have ground to a halt [2
]. Due to the impact of social and business situations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a critical issue to consider is survival [3
]. At this time, many organisations face significant challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic [4
]. Due to social distancing and the adoption of lockdown measures to combat COVID-19, work from home is the new way to ensure business continuity [5
The COVID-19 can have a strong psychological impact on individuals dealing with job uncertainty [6
]. Lateef [6
] states that new business strategies and the sudden encountering of life-altering changes can cause stress [6
]. Remote working also has negative results, such as a reduced possibility of promotion, isolation, the breakdown of professional relationships, and an increase in family-work conflict, all of which may lead to lower work engagement and productivity [7
]. On this basis, it is necessary to create a suitable work environment for employees [7
]. Lee [9
] emphasises that considering the current isolation, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of stress and anxiety are growing. According to Jamal et al. [5
], employees experience mental health issues. Also, stress is considered the silent enemy, which can trigger physiological and emotional problems [5
]. Employees’ emotional and mental health impact their productivity and satisfaction in the workplace [10
]. High stress levels can be identified in times of crisis or adverse situations [3
]. Castro de Araujo and Machado [10
] mention a high impact on people’s mental health may be due to high levels of uncertainty and the economic crisis. According to Singh [11
], during the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees report that their work is a significant source of stress and anxiety that can quickly rise to an anxiety disorder with negative consequences for physical and mental health, wellbeing, and work engagement.
Governments in different countries around the world responded to COVID-19 by implementing a work-from-home policy to reduce transmission of the virus from one person to another [7
]. Additionally, Madell [12
] argued that work-from-home has disadvantages as it does not offer a physical separation between work and private time and that, in the end, home may be a boring work environment [12
]. These disadvantages lead to a low level of satisfaction and can also lead to a lower level of work engagement. Consequently, a low level of work engagement leads to decreased productivity among employees (see, e.g., [3
]). On the other hand, the authors [2
] report that some employees have more time for themselves and find it easier to reconcile their work and private lives, which, in turn, increases their job satisfaction and work productivity. In general, employee performance plays a crucial role in the success of an organisation [15
]. The work-from-home discussion is always related to electronic communication [16
], and employees may not get recognition and support when needed, which may lead to their dissatisfaction [17
]. The downside of working from home is also that some employees may work overtime, but their work is only judged by the result, not by the difficulties that employees overcame during the process [18
]. The latest change related to the work-from-home policy during COVID-19 is in work-life balance. Zhang [16
] emphasises that family problems can negatively impact employees’ moods at work when everything happens at the same time and place. All this is reflected in lower work engagement which leads to lower productivity of employees.
According to Pedraza et al. [1
], employees report lower dissatisfaction and anxiety during COVID-19. Changes in the workplace due to COVID-19, such as a decrease in income or an increase or decrease in workload, are associated with more significant anxiety and dissatisfaction [1
]. This situation requires academic research to provide organisations with the right strategies to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic [20
]. Therefore, the paper aims to test if there are significant differences in occupational stress, job satisfaction, work productivity and work engagement among employees before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the paper aims to highlight which problems of occupational stress, job satisfaction, work productivity and work engagement are faced by employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though some studies have revealed positive or negative results during COVID-19, we wanted to analyse the situation in Slovenia. From this point of view, we used the items used by the authors in their research and based on the results in our research, we wanted to determine whether employees are more or less productive, engaged, or satisfied during COVID-19. The paper aims to develop a multidimensional model with these four constructs to analyse them before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, we will analyse the differences in strength of the effects of these constructs along two intersectional times (before the COVID-19 pandemic and during the COVID-19 pandemic). Our research highlights how organisations can reduce the problem of occupational stress and shows tools for organisations with which they can increase job satisfaction, work productivity and work engagement among employees during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Liguori and Pittz [50
] emphasise that new strategies are needed for a business to survive and thrive in the era of COVID-19. According to Chanana and Sangeeta [14
], satisfied, engaged, and productive employees have become essential in today’s pandemic situation [14
]. Results show that occupational stress has a more negative effect on work engagement during COVID-19 than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Occupational stress has a more negative effect on job satisfaction during COVID-19 than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, based on the results, we concluded that job satisfaction has a less positive effect on work engagement during COVID-19 than before COVID-19. Also, work engagement has a less positive direct effect on work productivity during COVID-19 than before COVID-19.
Based on the results, we found significant differences in occupational stress, job satisfaction, work productivity and work engagement among employees before and during COVID-19. In addition, results show differences in the strength of the effects among constructs in the conceptual model between employees in two intersectional times–before COVID-19 and during COVID-19. We found that occupational stress has a more negative effect on work engagement during COVID-19 than before COVID-19. Occupational stress has a more negative effect on job satisfaction during COVID-19 as compared with before COVID-19. Also, results show that job satisfaction has a less positive effect on work engagement during COVID-19 than before COVID-19. Work engagement has a less positive direct effect on work productivity during COVID-19 than before COVID-19.
Due to economic inactivity and business closures, many employers have changed their business strategies or reduced their workforce. Therefore, employees must deal with higher stress than before COVID-19. Based on the results, we found that the occupational stress among employees during COVID-19 is perceived higher than occupational stress among employees before the pandemic. In addition, based on the results, we found that there are statistically significant occupational stress differences among employees before the COVID-19 pandemic and during COVID-19, which is in line with [7
]. The results indicate that employees during the COVID-19 pandemic face higher stress in performing work tasks, suffering from back pain, shoulder pain, fear of losing their job or not finishing the work on schedule, messy sleep cycle, insomnia, lack of energy, tiredness, headaches, migraines, emotional exhaustion, depression, tension, panic, problems with concentration and irritability. On the other hand, the results show that employees before the COVID-19 pandemic, on average, agree with the statement about messy sleep cycles and insomnia. However, the average agreement is much lower than with employees during COVID-19. The results indicate that employees before the COVID-19 pandemic on average neither agreed nor disagreed with all other statements. However, employees during COVID-19 agree with all statements about occupational stress. Also, results show that occupational stress has a more negative effect on work engagement during the COVID-19 compared with before the COVID-19 pandemic. Occupational stress has a more negative effect on job satisfaction during COVID-19 as compared with before COVID-19. This is a severe indication that organisations need to act and build organisational sustainability with a more supportive work environment during COVID-19.
According to Gavidia’s research [51
], employees reported that the COVID-19 pandemic was the most stressful time, associated with a marked increase in insomnia, anxiety and antidepressant medications. According to Ginger’s survey [52
], American employees were stressed before COVID-19, but during COVID-19 stress levels are through the roof. Before the onset of COVID-19, almost 60% of employees shared that stress had brought them to tears at work, representing a 23% increase from 2019. During COVID-19, employees’ stress levels were reported to be significantly higher: 88% of employees described experiencing moderate to extreme stress during the past 4–6 weeks; 69% of employees described this as the most stressful period of their entire professional career, including major events like the September 11 terror attacks, the 2008 Great Recession and others. Every demographic, including adults over 55, rated COVID-19 as the most stressful time; 91% of employees working from home reported experiencing moderate to extreme stress; 43% of employees have become physically ill due to work-related stress [52
]. Also, Kumar et al. [53
] and Abbas and Zhiqiang [54
] found that during COVID-19, employees report losing job satisfaction and work engagement which is reflected in low productivity. Therefore, employees need to adopt the following strategies to reduce occupational stress.
Employers should support open communication and provide clarity to employees on all work-related issues, including the tools needed to perform their tasks. In fact, poor communication increases stress in the workplace. Employers can also organise regular online meetings to allow employees to discuss how the pandemic affects work and what changes could help them better cope with new job requirements. Employers should intensively support flexibility at work. Especially in this tough period during COVID-19, employees need flexibility at work more than ever. Concerned about exposing themselves to infection in the workplace, the organisation could introduce a hybrid work pattern so that employees go to offices only a few days a week. Also, working parents are under a lot of stress, as some schools and kindergartens are closed, meaning that employees will need more flexibility at work to have better control between work and private life. Employers should help employees manage stress through various online courses on overcoming stress during COVID-19 or a video teleconference with mental health professionals. Employers could also develop a stress management policy that clearly describes employees’ steps when they experience signs of stress in the workplace. The suggested measures may reduce the negative impact of occupational stress on employees’ social isolation, performance, motivation, satisfaction, absenteeism, productivity, and interest in work [7
Based on the results, we found that job satisfaction among employees during COVID-19 is perceived lower than job satisfaction among employees before COVID-19. Also, there are statistically significant job satisfaction differences among employees before and during COVID-19, which is in line with [26
]. The results indicate that employees during the COVID-19 pandemic on average neither agreed nor disagreed with the statements regarding satisfaction with the number of education and training programmes, flexible working hours, working hours and distribution of work obligations, the level of self-regulation of work speed that is enabled, and the balance between their work and private life. Employees during COVID-19, on average, agree with statements regarding satisfaction with leadership in the organisation and with enabling a flexible workspace (e.g., working from home). However, their average agreement is much lower as compared with the time before COVID-19. On the other hand, employees before COVID-19 agree with all statements about job satisfaction, except with satisfaction with enabling a flexible workspace (for example, working from home). In contrast, employees during COVID-19 are satisfied with enabling a flexible workspace (for example, working from home). Also, the results show that job satisfaction has a less positive effect on work engagement during COVID-19 than before the COVID-19 pandemic. During COVID-19, the flexibility of teleworking has increased, enabling work from home, but this also leads to other work-related dissatisfactions. Closing schools and kindergartens will force many working parents to supervise or run home-schooling. Compliance with these requirements is complex for many parents, especially those who must continue to work [57
]. Moreover, this leads to lower job satisfaction and work engagement during COVID-19 [56
]. Thus, job satisfaction has a less positive effect on work engagement during COVID-19 than before COVID-19 [55
Therefore, employers need to recognise signs of distress among their employees, directly through interviews and indirectly through observation. Open and two-way communication with an employee provides the information they need and enables the expression of negative emotions and the improvement of feelings of control. The employer should adjust work obligations to those employees who educate their children at home and grant them more flexible work arrangements. Flexible work systems give employees the freedom to perform their work duties and tasks. Also, employees should organise further education and training programs during COVID-19 because the new work model calls for new tools and resources to meet new work requirements. Employers should also provide their employees with training opportunities through online seminars, online courses, and other channels to help them advance in their tasks and goals. For example, employers should provide employees with the right technology and resources to make the process easy for employees who are just getting into the swing of remote work. Employers should provide information about, and access to, ergonomic workstations to ensure employees are at their best when working. The suggested measures may reduce the negative impact of the closure of non-essential services, day-cares and schools, of children’s online learning, and other working from home challenges on employees’ ability to balance their household work and office work, preventing burnout and thus raising their job satisfaction [19
Based on the results, we found that work engagement among employees during COVID-19 is perceived lower than work engagement among employees before the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, based on the results, we found statistically significant work engagement differences among employees before and during COVID-19, which is in line with [29
] and [14
]. The results indicate that employees during COVID-19 had the highest agreement with the statement regarding engagement to the quality of work, similarly to before COVID-19, though the average was higher before COVID-19. Also, results show that employees during COVID-19 on average neither agreed nor disagreed with statements regarding doing work with passion, their engagement to achieve successful business results, being aware of the importance of innovation for their organisation, helping to develop the organisation and feeling very good at the workplace. In the time before COVID-19, employees were engaged with all characteristics that describe work engagement (doing work with passion, being engaged to the quality of work, being engaged in achieving successful business results, being aware of the importance of innovation for the organisation and helping to develop the organisation, having a feeling that their work and job are important, being proud to be employed in the organisation, believing in the successful development and operation of the organisation, feeling very good at their workplace). Also, results show that work engagement has a less positive direct effect on work productivity during COVID-19 than before COVID-19.
Clear goals and regular communication in these difficult times will help employees maintain focus, a sense of purpose, mental wellbeing and energy. Although employees may become more risk-averse in this uncertain environment, these times of significant change are crucial for employee engagement and organisational success. Even if an organisation has limitations on new investments during COVID-19, employers can emphasise the need for innovations or processes, leading to employee engagement. Employers should also pay attention to the unique needs of employees. For example, those who face occupational stress should be provided with the necessary assistance. Times have changed, so work needs to be redesigned to adapt to changing times. One of the keys to maintaining employment during a health crisis is flexibility at work. An employer can also increase the engagement of their employees by giving employees free days to take care of their family during COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed employers to remodel work to fit into the changing environment. Employers need to pivot workplace strategies to safeguard employee health during the pandemic and enhance engagement and productivity in these unrivalled times. The suggested measures may improve employees’ working and personal lives and decrease employees’ work-life conflict, work errors, poor work quality, frustration, anxiety, stress, and burnout, thus reducing the negative impact of COVID-19 on employees’ work engagement [14
Based on results, we found that work productivity among employees during COVID-19 is perceived lower than work productivity among employees before the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, based on the results, we found statistically significant work productivity differences among employees before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is in line with [7
]. Also, the results indicate that employees during COVID-19 have lower productivity than employees before COVID-19. They, on average, neither agreed nor disagreed with the characteristics that describes work productivity: a focus on achieving successful work results has not diminished, willingness to work has not diminished, not feeling a lack of ability to perform work, the quantity of work done within a specific time frame has not decreased, do not feel a reduction in capacity to perform work tasks, the quality of work has not diminished, and accuracy at work has not decreased. When we compared the average value with employees’ statements before COVID-19, we found that employees before COVID-19 agree with all the characteristics that describe work productivity. Based on the outcome results, we found that employees before COVID-19 were much more productive.
Therefore, organisations must focus on employee emotions associated with COVID-19 to restore productivity and provide employee experience. The negative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the personal and working lives of employees leads to stress, frustration, and burnout of employees. Thus, these negative feelings can impact employee productivity and engagement, leading to poor quality work, mistakes and eventually affecting an organisation’s ability to survive these difficult times. Therefore, flexible working conditions, an influential work culture, and support from employers are some of the prerequisites for successful functioning. Employers need to help employees stay productive and connected with the organisation. The employer should know what motivates employees and what changes they want. Thus, an employer should open communication channels between themselves and their employees and create a safe environment for open feedback and the transfer of ideas (virtual meets). Open communication, employer support, and flexible working hours are prerequisites for ensuring employees’ productivity and business success. The suggested measures may reduce the negative impact of the closure of public spaces, schools and day-cares; of stress and isolation; of numerous and time-consuming meetings, longer working hours, and increased challenges in communication; and of other behavioural, physical, and psychological reactions on employees’ productivity [7
The confirmed hypotheses are clearly shown in Table 11
Organisations should be aware that engaged and productive employees are the key to organisational success in this challenging time. Therefore, organisations should look forward to keeping their employees satisfied through the engagement of employees during COVID-19.
Employees are the face of an organisation. Even a tiny change in the working process interrupts working speed, and it could be either an external or internal change. While small scale changes are easy to understand and move on from, a circumstance like COVID-19, which is developing every day, needs a lot of adjustment and planning to manage newer ways of working. Employees make a vital contribution to the success and competitiveness of the organisation. Organisations increasingly need to adapt to the market and increase their competitiveness. The situation with COVID-19 requires a lot of planning and adjustment and a new way of working. Our findings highlight the need for organisations to be aware of the extent and factors associated with occupational stress, work engagement, job satisfaction and work productivity among employees during COVID-19. Our research shows significant differences in occupational stress, job satisfaction, work engagement and work productivity among employees before and during COVID-19. Also, our research highlights the problems that are faced by employees for each construct separately. In addition, our research highlights differences in the strength of the effects among constructs in the multidimensional model between employees in two intersectional times—before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. We clearly presented how organisations can reduce the problem related to the studied constructs among employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our conclusion will help employers or managers create an appropriate and pleasant work environment for employees during COVID-19 and after the pandemic. In addition, our research and conclusions will help organisations develop new ways of working, with high levels of engagement and productivity with a more supportive work environment during COVID-19.
In these difficult times, the main aim of an organisation is to ensure a healthy life and promote general wellbeing at all stages of the lives of their employees. Teleworking turned out to be much more strenuous at the beginning of the pandemic than anyone would have imagined, especially from a psychological point of view. Suddenly we were torn away from our teams and often the workday was dragged on all day, thus a lot of people felt they were working even harder than usual. Therefore, we show that it is personally important for each individual to be aware of this situation and to consciously provide enough rest and support to/from other members of the team of his/her organisation. Everyone must recognise the changed conditions and be aware that they can be managed in a targeted way. Personal orientation towards sustainable development influences the sustainability of an organisation and through it the sustainability of the whole society. Therefore, we as individuals must first begin to pursue this goal in focus.
Advocating for the physical and mental health of employees has become even more important during the pandemic. Thus, organisations are already rapidly adapting workplaces in order to achieve hygiene and safety standards, establishing ways to work from home, establishing virtual tools for collaboration, and inventing new ways and tools to monitor and control work. This leads to an increase in work engagement, work satisfaction and work productivity which is especially important during the pandemic. For successful work, it is necessary to ensure an organisational culture based on trust, empathy, and transparency, while also considering different value orientations, motivational factors, and personality profiles of employees. When organisations promote sustainable development, they not only care about the wellbeing of employees but through their sustainable oriented operations contribute more to the wellbeing of the whole society (i.e., social responsibility), nature as such (i.e., responsibility to nature) and also to the profitability of the organisation (i.e., responsibility to shareholders in the form of profit).
We also draw the attention of economic policy makers to the aspects studied in this research. The state is interested in the wellbeing and health of the working population, as it improves its competitive position in the global market. Also, working people do not use health and other social benefits, which reduces the pressure on the state treasury. Therefore, it might make sense for states, similar to introducing mandatory reporting on the non-financial activities of organisations, to introduce mandatory reporting on health care (and thus stress reduction) and employee wellbeing. Namely, healthy employees are more satisfied with their work, more engaged in work, and thus more productive in their work. Higher productivity affects the organisation’s performance and consequently enables a richer and more competitive state. Responsible behaviour of individuals, organisations and states is of key importance for all stakeholders, and the state, through its activity and encouragement to socially responsible behaviour (of individuals, organizations), also takes care of its otherwise better functioning. We suggest all proposed actions to be monitored and for further research we recommend the measurement of their effects at the personal level, at the level of organisations and at the level of individual states; later we also recommend making international comparisons. We are aware that we should establish and develop a research network for international comparisons, which is a particularly important challenge for human future operations if we, as humanity, decide to do so.
The limitation of this research is that it is limited to a reflection of employees in Slovenian organisations. Also, in our research, we were limited to four constructs: occupational stress, job satisfaction, work engagement, work productivity. Also, in our research, we included all employees, regardless of their parenting. Therefore, for further research, we recommend analysing the differences in constructs between employees who have children and those who do not have them (employees who have schooled children at home and those who have not). For further research, we suggest the examination of these four constructs in different countries to compare the results. We are researchers from two different countries (Slovenia and Croatia). Therefore, for further research, we propose analysing the same constructs in Croatia and examining the differences among Croatian and Slovenian employees in occupational stress, job satisfaction, work engagement, and work productivity during COVID-19. So, we propose to compare the results with these constructs in Slovenia and Croatia. In July 2021, the Croatian government announced that only those private organisations that vaccinated their employees would receive state financial support due to Covid-19. This caused dissatisfaction among many private entrepreneurs in the Republic of Croatia who are already under stress due to reduced economic activity in the period of lockdown. It is necessary to investigate further the impact of COVID-19 on the entry of the Republic of Croatia into the Eurozone, i.e., whether COVID-19 will disrupt the adoption of the Euro currency and how this entry will affect the job satisfaction of managers and employers as well as employees. Also, possibilities for further research include studies relating to examining differences in other constructs (for example, organisation climate, leadership, employee relations, work motivation) before the COVID-19 pandemic and during COVID-19. Also, possibilities for further research include studies relating to examining these constructs in Slovenian and Croatian organisations.