UAE Health Index Stronger than Global Average despite Prevailing Always-on Culture, Says Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact Study
- UAE health index registers 67.9 points against global average of 62.5 points, higher than average ranking on work, family, physical and social health
- Employees experience greater flexibility and communication with colleagues, as well as longer working hours and stress during COVID-19 work from home period
- Survey reveals lower levels of loneliness as technology helps people check in on one another, stay connected
DUBAI, UAE – JUNE 24, 2020 – Global health service company Cigna Corporation (NYSE:CI) today announced the results of its first Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact Study, a new series of studies from Cigna and part of the annual Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey.
In a bid to better understand the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s health and well-being, the study engaged 10,204 people from eight key markets including the UAE, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Spain and the USA. The first round of the study was conducted in two phases between January 10 and February 24 while the second took place between April 22-27, 2020.
UAE Remains Resilient
The UAE registered a strong performance compared to other markets during the lockdown with an overall score of 67.9 points, up by 2.1 points from January to April. The survey showed improvements in the physical, family, social, and work health of residents in the UAE, while financial health witnessed a decline.
The improved scores across sectors emphasized the country’s resilience during the work from home period. Work registered 70.8 points in April, up from 69.2 in January, social climbed to 68.9, up from 66.9 points, family stood at 72.9 points, up from 70.0 in early 2020, and physical notched up 65.9 points, up from 62.6 in January. Most notably, people reported having enough time for themselves and feeling part of a community during this phase, with this perception surging from 40 percent to 50 percent, and from 34 percent to 46 percent respectively between January and April.
However, despite an improved quality of work life, the survey noted a prevailing always-on culture as employees continued to struggle to switch off and put in longer hours even when working from home. From a financial perspective, well-being declined globally with a drop from 55.8 to 54.8 points, while the UAE noted a minimal decline of 0.2 dropping from 56.4 to 56.2 points, echoing worldwide job security concerns.
Jerome Droesch, CEO of Cigna MEA, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide tragedy, and one of the most impactful events of our lifetime. At Cigna, in line with our commitment to delivering affordable, predictable and simple health and well-being solutions, we are focused on supporting all our clients and members impacted by the disease, while also working to understand how the population was coping with different aspects of life during this challenging time.”
“We believe that the government and business leaders play a pivotal role in the health and well-being of a nation through shaping a secure environment for its people, even during a pandemic. The results of our survey testify to the sustained and efficient management of this global health crisis by the UAE in securing the welfare of its residents during this critical period,” he added.
Lower Loneliness Levels during Work from Home Period
According to the study, UAE residents admitted to experiencing lower levels of loneliness as they continued to remain connected via technology even while working from home. Friends, colleagues and family members checked in on each other more often than usual and led to people feeling less isolated. In fact, only 50 percent admitted to feeling less isolated from others in April, compared to 53 percent in January 2020.
Interestingly, these tough times brought people together as 71 percent of respondents reported that they had more people to talk to in April, up from 68 percent in January, and 72 percent felt more connected through technology. Asked if they felt closer to others during this period, 80 percent said they did in April, reflecting a significant jump from 71 percent in January.
Working from Home – Longer Working Days and Improved Relationships
While 79 percent of respondents claimed to have more flexible workdays and improved communications with colleagues, these enhancements came at the expense of longer working hours in the UAE. Once again, technology came to the rescue and enabled people to stay connected and work remotely. These figures indicate that working routines are likely to change permanently once people head back to offices, as more employees now consider convenience, improved communications and flexibility to be key priorities.
The UAE ranked second highest after Thailand when it came to longer workdays with 65 percent of the respondents admitting to working longer hours. With schools closed and children at home, 75 percent also noted that they had to sacrifice their personal time or work time to support children, making their workday even longer.
Always-on Culture, Stress and Workplace Wellness
While the UAE has seen an improvement in overall well-being and managing stress levels, employees indicate that they continue to stress primarily over finances, workload and inevitably, over their health. With longer working hours, the always-on culture continued to prevail during the work from home period, leading to an increase in stress levels among employees.
A startling 95 percent of those surveyed in April attributed their stress to being always switched on as compared to 92 percent in January. Struggling to switch off from work, 57 percent of employees admitted to working on weekends during the work from home period, marking an increase from 52 percent in January, and 71 percent reported working after hours in April, compared to 63 percent prior to the restriction on movement. Among those under stress, it was promising to see that 55 percent found their stress to be manageable during the lockdown period, a healthy improvement from 45 percent in January 2020.
“What was heartening to see is that the survey identified a significant drop, down from 11 percent to 3 percent among employees that reported unmanageable levels of stress – making the UAE the only country on the list to report lower stress levels. It is a well-known fact that chronic and unmanageable stress impacts mental and physical health severely. The conversation around mental health and stress is critical and we are proud to continue facilitating this dialogue in the country,” Jerome said.
Unsurprisingly, the always-on culture has had an impact on the interest levels and productivity of employees. The study reveals a sharp rise in loss of interest, from 34 percent to 46 percent between January and April, which in turn, has impacted productivity levels among employees. This finding reaffirms that overwork has an adverse impact on mental health and directly results in reduced productivity and absenteeism at work.
Acceptance and appetite for virtual health has increased significantly as people practice social distancing and opt to conduct most of their tasks, including basic health consultations, online. If the option is available, 73 percent of the respondents said they are likely to get virtual health consultations, of which 66 percent said they will do so to minimize contact with people, while 19 percent consider it a viable option or are forced to use it. Overall, 81 percent said they are encouraged to use telehealth consultations, regardless of the underlying reasons.
While 49 percent of the respondents said they use telehealth services for general health support, 40 percent do so for prescription deliveries, 35 percent for mental health and well-being improvement, and 30 percent for referrals to consult with specialists. Virtual health consultations for chronic diseases garnered the lowest votes from respondents at 21 percent, indicating a preference to physically visit a doctor for such needs.
The New Normal
As the COVID-19 pandemic shapes new habits, the survey shows that people will continue to pay more attention to their mental and physical health. A majority of the participants (74 percent) said that they will be more alert about the coverage of their healthcare plans. The survey indicates that people are likely to look at their health, work and relationships differently – 42 percent see changes in how they will manage their work, 41 percent believe how they manage their health will change, 33 percent said they are set to see changed family and work relationships, and 28 percent worry about the possibility of future pandemics. Of the total respondents, 57 percent believe that their financial status will change post-COVID-19.
“The initial findings have implications for employers and how they approach flexible working as the country starts returning to the ‘new normal’ working arrangements. Office-based work can promote better collaboration, productivity and efficiency. However, we need to recognize the value that some employees garnered from working from home and continue protecting employee well-being during these times of change,” Jerome said.
Cigna is keen to empower people on their wellness journey and equip them with the most affordable, predictable and simple tools to enhance overall health and well-being. As part of this priority, Cigna will continue to conduct similar studies in upcoming months to stay informed of people’s well-being and needs during this exceptional time.
The first full report can be read here
About Cigna Middle East & Africa
Cigna Corporation is a global health service company dedicated to helping people improve their health, well-being, and peace of mind. With a heritage of over 200 years, Cigna is committed to its promise of being together all the way in providing healthcare, clinical management and wellness programs to employers, individuals, and governments around the world.
Operating for more than 17 years in the MENA region, Cigna serves the GCC markets and Lebanon through its locally regulated entities. The company delivers both health and wellness services to individuals, employers and government entities in the region.
Cigna has been operating in the African continent for 60 years servicing over 250,000 members. Cigna is servicing corporates through a partnership between Hollard and Cigna. Together; we provide health insurance for local companies looking to insure key resources and multinationals looking to harmonise their health insurance across Africa.
Cigna maintains a global sales capability in 30 countries and jurisdictions, employing over 74,000 people that service more than 165 million customer relationships and more than 1 billion customer touchpoints.
To learn more about Cigna Insurance Middle East, visit http://www.cigna-me.com