Working in a pandemic: Exploring the impact of COVID-19 health anxiety on work, family, and health outcomes.

John P. Trougakos, Nitya Chawla, Julie M. McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

265 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic has unhinged the lives of employees across the globe, yet there is little understanding of how COVID-19 health anxiety (CovH anxiety)—that is, feelings of fear and apprehension about having or contracting COVID-19—impacts critical work, home, and health outcomes. In the current study, we integrate transactional stress theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) with self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) to advance and test a model predicting that CovH anxiety prompts individuals to suppress emotions, which has detrimental implications for their psychological need fulfillment. In turn, lack of psychological need fulfillment hinders employees’ abilities to work effectively, engage with their family, and experience heightened well-being. Our model further predicts that handwashing frequency—a form of problem-focused coping—will mitigate the effects of CovH anxiety. We test our propositions using a longitudinal design that followed 503 employees across the first four weeks that stay-at-home and social distancing orders were enacted. Consistent with predictions, CovH anxiety was found to impair critical work (goal progress), home (family engagement) and health (somatic complaints) outcomes due to increased emotion suppression and lack of psychological need fulfillment. Further, individuals who frequently engage in handwashing behavior were buffered from the negative impact of CovH anxiety. Combined, our work integrates and extends existing theory and has a number of important practical implications. Our research represents a first step to understanding the work-, home-, and health-related implications of this unprecedented situation, highlighting the detrimental impact of the anxiety stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1234-1245
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Psychological Association


  • anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • emotion regulation
  • employee well-being and effectiveness
  • self-determination theory


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