More than a year and a half into the pandemic, the mental health of workers nationwide is deteriorating at an alarming rate.
Nearly 80% of workers are worried about their mental health, and those concerns are nearly double that of physical health, according to a recent Conference Board survey of 1,800 U.S. workers.
“In April, we were much more optimistic that there would be a return to the new normal or the next normal. I think we’ve found that that's not really happening and it has had an impact on the way people feel about returning to the workplace,” Rebecca Ray, The Conference Board’s executive vice president of workforce issues, told Yahoo Finance Live.
Of the nearly eight in 10 workers concerned about their mental health, 77% cited stress and burnout as the biggest challenges, up from 55% in April. The major factor for the worsening condition is an increasing workload with half saying work demands are taking a larger toll than COVID-19.
“Blurred boundaries [between work and personal life] and increased workload are higher on workers’ list of concerns than either contracting COVID themselves or exposing it to loved ones — and that, we found, to be rather striking,” Ray added.
Women especially feeling their workload weigh on mental health
From a gender perspective, the survey revealed a striking difference between men and women who feel overwhelmed. According to the survey, women reported their mental health suffered from increased workload pressures more than their male counterparts, with 60% of women saying their mental health has deteriorated to some degree during the pandemic, compared to 48% of men.
And that added stress is reflected in recent jobs data as a growing number of women have downshifted their careers or left the workforce altogether. In August, 41,000 women ages 20 and over left the labor force compared to 139,000 men who joined, bringing the total number of women who have left the workforce since February 2020 to 1.6 million, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
“Child care and elder care duties disproportionately fall on women, and when you combine that with the increased workloads and blurred boundaries, women are greatly impacted,” Ray added.
Amid the rise of mental health concerns and a tight labor market, companies are under pressure to prioritize employee’s mental and emotional well-being. Ray says one way to do this is to provide flexibility.
“About 70% of respondents indicated that a flexible work policy had a very large impact on mental health,” Ray said. “Companies are in a scramble for talent now, and those that offer flexibility and support employees through this are the ones that are going to have an easier time attracting and retaining the talent they need.”