Management teams at energy companies across the country have been challenged by the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic and the decline in oil prices, but employers were given high marks in how they’ve handled the crisis, according to a University of Houston (UH) Energy-led survey.

However, employees are less optimistic about their job security and the future of the industry as a whole, the survey found. A gender and ethnic analysis also showed that women in energy are impacted more than male counterparts.

“For energy industry workers, these are stressful times,” said researchers, as “uncertainty about the future of the industry, job security and concerns about Covid-19’s impact on the industry and on personal lives are substantial.

“In the United States alone, reductions in force are likely to affect 19% of offshore workers in 2020, and contractors by over 20%,” said researchers. Using the experience across the sector when oil prices cratered in late 2014 and into 2015, researchers forecast anticipated job losses as a result of lower demand and energy prices in 2020.

“These analyses show that job losses per drilling rig transitioned from active to inactive can amount to the mid-term loss of approximately 171 jobs. In other words, the economic impact of lower demand translates into ripple effects for economic sectors beyond energy.”

UH Energy worked with Pink Petro and other industry groups, to gather data from 408 energy workers between March 25 and April 1. The survey mostly covered the oil and gas sector, with 83% of the respondents, while others worked in the alternative energy and power/utilities sectors. On average, participants had 16 years of experience.

Almost 90% of employees said their companies “have responded to the pandemic effectively,” researchers said.

Employees based their positive responses on whether the company had provided clear and honest information about the issue; whether it had provided support to help workers juggle work responsibilities with those for children who were suddenly out of school and for their aging parents; and the extent to which the company had been prepared for the prospect of a global viral pandemic.

“Interestingly, even though the research team expected differences between energy workers who had weathered previous boom and bust cycles, there were no differences in the current study — energy workers found the current events equally unsettling, whether or not they had previously experienced boom and bust cycles,” researchers said.

However, more than half (53%) said they “felt insecure” about their jobs because of the pandemic and more than one-third (39%) were worried about paying their mortgage and other bills this year.

Still, close to half of the respondents, 46%, said they were optimistic about the industry’s future. Age and experience did not impact the answers, researchers said. However, those with children at home were slightly less optimistic about the industry.

Most, or 83%, said their companies had provided “fast and efficient technology” to work remotely, and 71% said their supervisors had worked effectively to resolve conflicts between work and family life because of Covid-19.

More than one-third (37%) had concerns about the virus affecting their sleep.

“That was especially true for people whose workload has increased due to the virus; people who struggled more with conflicts between work and family responsibilities and those worried about job security also reported problems sleeping,” researchers said. “Poor sleep carries implications for workplace safety.”

Pink Petro and the UH Institute for Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies also looked at answers for data specifically about women and people of color during the current crisis.

“Women in energy are more likely to experience work-family conflict during the Covid-19 crisis than men, but both women and men experience work-family conflict,” said researchers. “Women

were less likely to report having access to employer provided backup care for childcare during Covid-19 than men. Women in energy are more likely to experience stress that affects their ability to focus at work than men.”

Hispanic and Asian American energy workers said they experienced significantly higher levels of work-family interface stress than white and African American counterparts, according to the findings.

“Asian Americans are much more significantly affected by travel restrictions than all other groups, and indicate to a larger extent that travel restrictions limit their ability to see loved ones and their ability to manage their personal and life issues.” Asian Americans also reported higher overall levels of stress than energy workers from other groups because of the virus.

“Building a sustainable, diverse and inclusive workforce is more important now than ever in a crisis,” Pink Petro CEO Katie Mehnert said. “I am optimistic. We need to learn as much as we can from Covid-19 and this study provides recommendations for companies and leaders as they navigate this new normal.”