The 3 big well-being drops (and recoveries) of 2020

December 23, 2020 - 5 min read

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What the data suggests

Why this matters

We have a running joke in my household: when something awful happens, we call it “on brand” for 2020. In a year like this, it is no surprise that well-being has suffered. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, yes, but on top of that we have faced some incredibly tragic and painful events as a nation. 

BetterUp has been tracking member’s self-reported well-being across hundreds of thousands of coaching sessions with workers around the globe since mid-March of 2020. We might expect that well-being has been low all year. However, when we plotted the average level of well-being day by day, some fascinating patterns emerged.  

What the data suggests

All you need is the naked eye to see the profound dip in well-being in early June. This datapoint gave me goosebumps. The most dramatic drop in well-being during the year was the week of June 1st following George Floyd's death. This event -- despite so much other turmoil -- had the biggest impact. 

Well-being dropped 14% from peak. During that week, there was an uprising of protest and events both peaceful and violent erupted around the globe. These events touched the collective. Not just underrepresented, not just those directly affected. The whole. 

Two other notable sharp declines in well-being occurred: 

  • Pandemic declaration. When it became clear COVID-19 would obey no borders and the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the uncharted territory brought with it a crushing anxiety and uncertainty in the face of a threat to our basic needs. 
  • US election. The second pronounced dip occurred during the first week of November, coinciding with nearly 5 days of vote-counting toward a declared president-elect (and the anticipated beginning of a long tail of political dispute and unrest). 

What also struck me was how these data reflect a buoyancy of the human condition. Despite a trying period in the spring, punctuated by the lowest point of year, we were able to recover. Even more encouraging, after each of these three notable dips, the speed and slope to recover improved. Most of the people reflected in this graph were the same individuals across time. Despite one of the hardest years in many of our lifetimes, perhaps it taught us something about how to recover, how to bounce back, and how strong we are 1. 

Why this matters

In some ways, this data feels like it reached inside my own heart and mind and plotted the experience of the year in a graph. I have to imagine this resonates with many others as well. We have collectively faced pervasive and profound uncertainty and anxiety this year. No matter your individual opinion or political stance, the trauma of the year has been powerful and painful. 

Even without a plot like this one on hand, many companies know the challenge this year has brought. With our personal networks hampered by social distance, the workplace and our teams have become more important than ever as a source of community and support.  It has been encouraging and rewarding to see so many organizations trying to understand and improve this for their employees.  We see companies investing in building supportive, empathetic, and inclusive workforces not only because it’s good for business but because it’s good for humanity. In the darkness of these times, one bright spot has been witnessing so many companies embracing a responsibility to care for their people. 

Our free online toolkit is available to help you and your teams navigate uncertainty, manage difficult emotions, and thrive while working remotely. 

1 Notably, everyone represented in this graphic has a coach and a personal development platform at their fingertips with BetterUp. Also, the large majority of the population was employed at organizations that offer benefits for personal growth. It may be that people without BetterUp have had a different response pattern.


Published December 23, 2020

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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