Request a demo
Back to Blog

Did COVID-19 change us for better or for worse?

June 15, 2021 - 6 min read

We asked people, “How much do you think the pandemic has changed you, as a person, for better or worse?” and people say generally, COVID-19 has changed them for the better.

It’s been quite a year, but we're finally starting to see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Curfew restrictions are easing up; we can eat out at restaurants again and even spend time with friends and family indoors without a mask—the country's entering a new normal.

As we return to some resemblance of life as usual, there's a slew of unanswered questions about our experience dealing with this crisis. One of the most intriguing: How did we change as people?

For example, for many, the idea of “seize the day” now carries more weight, values have come into focus, and appreciation for things previously taken for granted has been elevated.

To understand the forward-looking impact of COVID-19 on people more clearly, two scientists from BetterUp Labs, Evan Carr, PhD, and Andrew Reece, PhD, took a look at the responses of 930 people who were surveyed in March 2021 about their experiences over the past year.

New call-to-action

How Covid changed us: What the data says

People were asked, “How much do you think the pandemic has changed you, as a person, for better or worse?”

We saw relatively even responses, balanced across a feeling of overall negative impact to overall positive impact. Given how different the pandemic experience has looked for those across socioeconomic statuses, industry, gender, parental status, and racial and ethnic groups, it makes sense we all have our own realities and experiences spanning the spectrum.

Still, the average was slightly positive, indicating that people think COVID-19 generally has changed them for the better, at least at an aggregate level.

Participants responded with a slider that went from -10 (made me much worse) through 0 (no change) to +10 (made me much better) in 1-unit increments:

Those who came out of the pandemic feeling on average, that the pandemic has created changes for the better cited reasons like:

  • Family
  • People
  • Future
  • Hobbies
  • Realization

This indicates that they perhaps see benefits to their life from the flexibility caused by remote working and the heightened awareness of their values.

But the reality's more nuanced. Even though the average rating was slightly positive, many people are languishing in the aftermath of COVID-19. People who still experience negative remnants of last year's struggle cited things like:

  • Mental health
  • Change 
  • Anxiety 
  • Fear
  • Physical health

This suggests that COVID-19 increased uncertainty in (perhaps already) stressful life situations for many.

How mental fitness influenced Covid’s impact

Stocksy_txpcfb873dbHDQ300_Medium_4495924-min

One explanation for these data lies in differential demographic impact of the virus itself leading to dominating, negative or positive manifestations in one’s life. But psychological explanations are surely also at play from person to person such as mindset, positive reframing, and skills in resilience. For people who underwent trauma through COVID-19—whether that's losing a loved one or dealing with financial insecurity—finding the positive impact from the pandemic is easier said than done. 

However, we know that with support, even those in the languishing middle have the capacity to see possibilities for a better future among the chaos. Psychologist Shilagh Mirgain says something new and better can come from crisis experiences, a concept known as the Phoenix Phenomenon. When we learn to cope with stress positively, we can live longer, experience greater satisfaction in our lives, and be more engaged with the world around us.

In an ideal world, challenges guide us toward growth opportunities, so we're able to handle obstacles better moving forward. When we're stuck and can't see the positives in life, we can't live life in full and realize our maximum potential.

Although no one could control the pandemic, challenging times can create something positive—even for people who feel that COVID-19 changed them for the worse, perhaps in terms of mental or physical health. What has it taught us about our values? About the importance of the things we lost through this time? Of the changes we want to make in our lives?

It's evident that everyone's pandemic reality is different and support in processing it and moving forward should be as well. To this end, at BetterUp, we've witnessed the power of personalized coaching firsthand. Everyone deserves the opportunity to reflect on this traumatic time in history and do personal sense-making around its impact going forward. Everyone deserves a chance to feel better and stronger as a person. And everyone deserves the support to get there. 

See how BetterUp works - Watch Demo

Published June 15, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

Read Next

Well-being
5 min read | May 11, 2021

What happens when organizations care about well-being?

Overall, when organizations care about well-being, the benefits return in the form of a more highly engaged workforce, that is more committed to the organization, better able... Read More
Well-being
4 min read | February 24, 2021

The resilient bounce back stronger

Global pandemics create disruption and stress in ways many of us have never faced before. But, on the other side of this, organizations can come out stronger. Read More
Well-being
9 min read | August 9, 2021

It's time to let go of the myth that pressure drives performance

It's not uncommon for people to push themselves to perform in high-pressure situations. But does it work? Read More
Well-being
6 min read | September 14, 2021

How to help working parents navigating back-to-school

Considering all they have on their plates, it’s no surprise working parents are feeling the pressure this fall. Yet many don't feel support from their organizations. Read More
Well-being
8 min read | November 19, 2021

Why women aren’t returning to the workplace

High unemployment threatens to wipe out a decades’ worth of economic advancement for women. Here’s how organizations can help Read More
Well-being
10 min read | January 28, 2022

Find out what the data reveal about the 6 key skills for managing stress

Stress is a inescapable part of our lives, but developing these six skills can help you mitigate its effects and improve your well-being Read More
Well-being
7 min read | February 1, 2022

The significant upside of reducing and preventing burnout

Managing the effects of burnout not only prevents negative feelings, it promotes positive attitudes that have far reaching impact for both individuals and organizations Read More
Well-being
5 min read | September 13, 2022

The hidden benefits of self-compassion

New BetterUp research reveals that self-compassion doesn't just help individuals, it actually contributes to the success and creativity of teams. Read More
Well-being
21 min read | October 31, 2022

When the leader’s cup runs dry: How burnout undermines mission and how to fix it

In the Federal government, leaders are committed to mission and often try to push through stress. But their burnout hurts their teams. Here's what to do. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.