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Employees say job pressures take bigger mental toll than COVID-19 fears

Managers, take note: As the pandemic drags on, the mental health of your staffers may be deteriorating as new survey results would suggest. In a recent survey, 57 percent of workers surveyed say their mental health has degraded since the start of the pandemic. The driving factor behind this decline: their workload. In fact, work pressures are so great that half of respondents say work demands are taking a bigger toll on their mental health than COVID-19.

What’s more, the survey reveals a stark gender divide. Women are disproportionately suffering from work-related pressures—at more than 1.5 times the rate of their male counterparts. This is likely due to the combined pressure of work and home life.

The survey, conducted by The Conference Board,  examines the declining mental health of workers and what business efforts are most effective in addressing this growing crisis.

More than 1,800 US workers participated, representing a cross-section of people across industries. Key findings from the nationwide survey include:

Burnout concerns skyrocket: Nearly 8 in 10 workers are concerned about their mental health

  • More than three quarters (77 percent) list concerns like stress and burnout as one of their biggest well-being challenges at work; that’s compared to a little over half (55 percent) reporting mental well-being concerns six months ago.
  • Despite the long-lasting pandemic, concerns over mental health are nearly double those of physical health (77 percent vs. 40 percent).
  • Substantially more women than men report mental health as their biggest concern:
    • Women: 82 percent
    • Men: 68 percent

 Work pressures are hurting mental health more than COVID-19

  • Half of respondents (50 percent) report that pressure related to workload harmed their mental health.
    • Women and Millennials report their mental health suffered from workload pressure more than their counterparts:
      • Women: 56 percent
      • Men: 37 percent
      • Millennials: 60 percent
      • Gen X: 53 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 39 percent
  • Blurred boundaries between work and personal life impacted 44 percent of respondents.
    • Women and Millennials also report blurred boundaries impacted them more than their counterparts:
      • Women: 48 percent
      • Men: 34 percent
      • Millennials: 54 percent
      • Gen X: 47 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 32 percent
  • 37 percent say fear of exposing loved ones to COVID-19 substantially impacted their mental health.
      • Women: 41 percent
      • Men: 29 percent
      • Millennials: 50 percent
      • Gen X: 35 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 33 percent

 The following challenges negatively impacted my mental health quite a bit or a great deal:

 Half of workers face declining mental health

  • More than half (57 percent) feel their mental health has deteriorated to some degree during the pandemic.
    • More women report this deterioration of mental health than men:
      • Women: 60 percent
      • Men: 48 percent
    • Age is also a factor, with more Millennials reporting their mental health has suffered than their counterparts:
      • Millennials: 63 percent
      • Gen X: 59 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 47 percent
    • The mental health of Baby Boomers is the most unchanged:
      • Millennials: 21 percent reported their mental health remained the same
      • Gen X: 29 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 41 percent

“We have long predicted that the pandemic would bring a tsunami of mental health issues; 19 months later, the toll on workers is unrelenting—and in some cases, continuing to worsen,” said Rebecca Ray, PhD, Executive Vice President of Human Capital at The Conference Board. “Women in particular face a disproportionate amount of pressure due to the combined demands of work and home life. If business leaders hope to cultivate a second-to-none workforce, especially in this tight labor market, improving the employee experience by providing flexibility must play a key role in their business strategy.”

More maintained their regular physical health regimen than a mental health regimen

  • Nearly half (49 percent) were able to keep up their regular physical health regimen during the pandemic, compared to only 30 percent who were able to keep up a regular mental health regimen.
  • More than a quarter (28 percent) don’t have a regular mental health regimen, compared to those who lack a physical health regimen (4 percent).
    • Women: 23 percent don’t have a regular mental health regimen
    • Men: 38 percent
    • Millennials: 19 percent
    • Gen X: 27 percent
    • Baby Boomers: 34 percent

Supervisors care about their employees, but how far will they go to support them?

  • Most respondents (75 percent) feel their supervisor genuinely cares about their well-being.
  • But significantly fewer (only 55 percent) think their supervisor would change their workload to address their mental health concerns.

Room for improvement: Organizational well-being initiatives are not as helpful as many may have hoped

  • Half of respondents (54 percent) feel that their organization’s initiatives to support their well-being were either not helpful (18 percent) or slightly helpful at best (36 percent).

Workers value support balancing their workload, staying social, and being healthy

  • Some resources to support well-being were more available than others:
    • Programs that support emotional well-being: Available for 82 percent
    • Online resources and tools on well-being: 79 percent
    • Formal policies that support work/life integration: 78 percent
    • Programs for well-being education: 74 percent
  • Of those for whom it was available, formal policies that support work/life integration were considered the most effective, with half of respondents (50 percent) reporting them helpful.
  • Also helpful were activities for social wellness and belonging (48 percent) and incentives for healthy habits (41 percent).
  • There are gender and generational differences in program usage and effectiveness:
    • Women and Millennials are currently taking advantage of formal policies that support work/life integration more than their counterparts:
      • Women: 39 percent
      • Men: 30 percent
      • Millennials: 46 percent
      • Gen X: 38 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 27 percent
    • Women and Millennials also found these policies more helpful:
      • Women: 42 percent
      • Men: 34 percent
      • Millennials: 50 percent
      • Gen X: 43 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 28 percent
    • In addition, women found online resources more helpful than men:
      • Women: 32 percent
      • Men: 21 percent
    • Baby Boomers found online resources more helpful than Millennials:
      • Millennials: 21 percent
      • Gen X: 31 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 26 percent


Available at my organization I am using this currently I have found this helpful
Formal policies that support work/life integration 78% 46% 50%
Activities for social wellness and belonging 60% 42% 48%
Incentives for healthy habits 62% 38% 41%
Programs for community well-being 56% 25% 39%
Programs for career and professional well-being 63% 29% 38%
Programs for wellbeing education 74% 29% 35%
Online resources and tools on wellbeing 79% 28% 35%
Financial wellbeing initiatives 69% 15% 30%
Programs that support emotional wellbeing 82% 16% 28%
Training to build resilience 31% 24% 38%
Virtual therapeutic platforms, meditation, or relaxation subscriptions to support mental health, reduce anxiety/stress 45% 29% 35%
Training to recognize the signs of mental health concerns and how to seek support for self and others 37% 22% 35%
Source: The Conference Board, 2021

Flexibility helps

  • Nearly 70 percent feel that flexible work policies, like remote work and flexible hours, have supported their mental health to some degree.
  • There were no significant differences by gender or generation.

“The pandemic blurred the line between work and home life, due in part to continuous connectivity and an increased sense of urgency due to the economic crisis,” said Amy Lui Abel, PhD, Vice President, Human Capital Research at The Conference Board. “These findings reveal the notable impact this lack of boundaries has had and speaks to the need for leaders to both reevaluate the efficacy of programs to support worker well-being and to better communicate about the availability of these resources.”

For more info: Tune into the podcast Mental Health and the American Worker, to hear more about these findings. Rebecca Ray, PhD, Executive Vice President of Human Capital at The Conference Board is joined by Dr. Srini Pillay, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer at Reulay, Inc. and former head of the Outpatient Anxiety Disorders Program at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital.









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