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Mental Health Worse for Health Care and Tech

Published Wednesday Feb 24, 2021

The mental well-being of workers in tech, communications, and health care, as well as women and workers under 40, has been most affected by the pandemic, according to a new study by Boston-based meQuilibrium, a tech firm focused on building more resilient workforces.

The study compares changes in job stress, burnout, motivation, and sleep between December 2019 and June 2020 among 7,000 employees.

“The cumulative impact of the pandemic has been devastating to workers’ mental well-being,” says Brad Smith, Ph.D. and chief science officer at meQuilibrium. “The specific challenges employees face differ dramatically by industry, age, and gender, yet the overall trend clearly shows the tremendous strain of the pandemic in increased stress, burnout, diminished motivation and the inability to remain consistently positive.”

Tech industry employees had the most negative changes of any industry, with double-digit increases in job stress (11%), disordered sleep (14%), burnout (23%), and an almost 40% drop in motivation.

The study also found that communications industry employees, despite largely supportive employers and limited front-line exposure, experienced the largest increase in job stress (30%) and also experienced major decreases in motivation (-33%). Finance/insurance industry employees seem to have avoided COVID-19-related burnout but face significant challenges with motivation (-32%) and sleep (11%).

The study also found that workers under 40 experienced a 23% increase in disordered sleep, versus an increase in sleep issues of only 1% in older workers. Workers under 40 experienced a decline in motivation of 45%, while workers over 40 suffered a 14% decline. There was also a 19% increase in the risk of burnout among the younger group.

“In addition to the current crisis, workers under 40 are more likely to be coping with balancing child care and work, as well as facing lower income levels and higher career pressure than their older colleagues,” says Smith.

Working women carry a high burden in the workplace due to the many demands placed on them, and those responsibilities increased during COVID. The study found that high job stress among women increased by nearly 20%, while job stress among men increased just 1.6%. In addition to job stress, the rate of decreased motivation was substantially higher among women (31%) than among men (21%).

The study found that perceptions of employer support serve as a critical buffer against threats to employee well-being. The rate of increase in job stress among employees who feel unsupported by their employer was more than 10 times higher than those who feel strongly supported by their employer. Increases in symptoms of burnout, disordered sleep, and motivation difficulties were also all substantially higher among those who did not feel supported by an employer.

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