The lockdown is having a big mental health impact on employees

May 8, 2020, 8:56 AM UTC

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Good morning.

I’ve heard from numerous CEOs who say they expect a substantial proportion of their staff to continue to work from home, at least part time, once the pandemic passes. And why not? Now that we’ve learned the habit of video conferencing, it’s an opportunity to save both commute time and high-priced office rent.

But there’s a dark side to the work-from-home story that isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Speaking yesterday with a group of CEOs assembled virtually by Fortune, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff said 36% of his employees have reported having mental health issues during the lockdown. That’s a stunning statistic. Later in the day, Synchrony CEO Margaret Keane made a similar comment to a separate virtual group of executives, assembled by Fortune and McKinsey. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of calls” on mental health issues, she said. “It is something we have to be very focused on.”

Some of the problem is anxiety provoked by the pandemic. Some is the burden of caring for children out of school and elderly, vulnerable parents, often at the same time. Some, said Keane, is “domestic issues.” In a piece written for Fortune, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In Cofounder Rachel Thomas said the problem is particularly pronounced among women. “Homeschooling kids and caring for sick or elderly relatives during the pandemic is creating a ‘double double shift.’ It’s pushing women to the breaking point.”

Lean In conducted a survey in April that found “one in four women say they are experiencing severe anxiety with physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat. One in 10 men say the same. More than half of all women are currently struggling with sleep issues.”

You can hear more from the Benioff conversation, which focused on how to get companies reopened, here, and read the full Sandberg column here. Other news below.

Alan Murray


Neiman Marcus

There goes another one: upscale department store Neiman Marcus has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Like J.Crew, Neiman Marcus went into the coronavirus crisis already weighed down with debt. It hopes to emerge from bankruptcy protection in the fall, but faces a very tough time between now and then—little more than a third of its sales are online, and only a few stores have reopened. Fortune


Hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug that President Trump has repeatedly touted as a miracle cure for COVID-19, is nothing of the sort. That's according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found it failed to help those with infections stay off ventilators or live longer. Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, whose researchers participated in the study, has now edited its clinical guidance to remove the suggestion that the drug (which can have terrible side-effects) is a suitable treatment for COVID-19 patients. Fortune

Norwegian wealth

Norway's sovereign wealth fund—at $1 trillion, the world's largest—is going to have to make the unprecedented move of liquidating some of its assets in order to cover withdrawals by the country's government. Such are the demand of the current crisis. Norges Bank Governor Oystein Olsen, who oversees the fund: "It obviously is a positive feature of our society that we have this room to maneuver, unlike a number of other countries." No kidding. Bloomberg

WeChat surveillance

Researchers at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab have reported that Tencent's WeChat app surveils documents and images shared by its foreign users, in order to refine its censorship capabilities back home in China. The revelation comes at a time when popular Chinese social media apps (hi, TikTok!) are coming under major U.S. scrutiny due to their potential security implications. CNBC


German exports

Economists expected German exports to fall 5% in March—instead, they got an 11.8% drop. That's the biggest fall in German exports since records began three decades ago. Germany's government is expecting the economy to shrink by 6.3% despite all the measures taken to soften the coronavirus's blow. After all, Germany's economy is very dependent on exports, and the interconnected global economy makes a hard impact unavoidable. Reuters

Contact tracing

The U.K. is starting to build a second contact-tracing app that—by using decentralized technology provided by Apple and Google—protects privacy better than the first. Privacy campaigners had pointed out that the first app could give authorities detailed information about individuals' location. That would a) be a legal nightmare and b) a huge disincentive to people actually using the app, which would make it pointless. Oh, and it’s glitchy without the tech firms' support. Read Fortune's earlier explanation of the controversy for a reminder of what's at stake. Financial Times

Real estate

Some European real-estate markets are suffering more in the coronavirus crisis than others. Russia is in particular trouble, thanks to the "oil war" with Saudi Arabia, which has wiped around 30% off the value of the ruble. Berlin seems to be in better shape (perhaps in line with Germany's relatively good lockdown performance) and the Madrid market has slowed down dramatically. Wall Street Journal

There's the beef

America's milk glut is leading more U.S. dairy farmers to send their cows for slaughter. Milk and cheese demand is down due to restaurant and schools being shuttered, while the demand for ground beef is rising. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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