Survey: Workers’ stress, anxiety is up — but use of wellness assistance programs is down

Not surprisingly, a new survey by the Conference Board showed U.S. workers rank mental and psychological well-being as one of their biggest wellness concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a surprise: The same survey shows participation in wellness programs — including mental health resources and Employee Assistance programs — has dropped during the past year.

The Conference Board, a nonprofit business membership and research group founded more than 100 years ago, has more than 1,000 public and private members in more than 60 countries. It regularly conducts surveys.

This survey, conducted online from early to mid-March, polled more than 1,100 U.S. workers representing a cross-section of people across industries, from lower-level employees to the CEO.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly 60% of workers reported concerns about stress and burnout;
  • More than one-third of respondents also expressed concerns about their physical well-being, including fear of getting sick;
  • Another one-third worried about social wellness and belonging, such as opportunities to connect with others;
  • Spiritual well-being was of least concern, with only 10% reporting they were worried about feeling a sense of purpose in what they do.

Despite overwhelming concern for mental/psychological well-being, participation in programs that address these issues dropped. In the aggregate, usage of mental health resources and Employee Assistance Programs dropped 4% during the pandemic.

Rebecca Ray, executive vice president, human capital, at the Conference Board, said she was surprised by the findings.

“With the well-being of so many workers under immense strain, it’s surprising that the use of many programs to support wellness decreased,” she said. “These findings speak to the need for better communication from leaders about the availability of resources, and a rethinking of the ways in which companies offer them.”

The good news:  An overwhelming majority (78%) believe their supervisor genuinely cares about their well-being — and 62% said they feel comfortable speaking of their well-being challenges at work.

Despite this, nearly one-fifth of workers (18%) do not feel comfortable discussing their hardships at work without fear of negative consequences.

Amy Lui Abel, vice president, human capital research, said this needs to change.

“Today more than ever, leaders need to understand their teams’ struggles so they can take steps to actively support their well-being, engagement and productivity,” she said. “By managing with empathy, leaders can build trust and better understand how to support their employees’ well-being.”

Not surprisingly, age and gender appear to have an impact in the results, including the following findings:

  • Millennials are most concerned with mental and psychological well-being. As workers earlier in their careers, they are also more concerned than other generations about professional and financial well-being;
  • Gen Xers were more concerned about social wellness and belonging than other respondents;
  • Baby boomers are more concerned about physical well-being than their generational counterparts;
  • Women were more concerned about spiritual well-being and slightly more concerned about physical, professional and financial well-being than men;
  • Men were slightly more concerned about social well-being than women.

The survey also showed millennials were the only group that had an increase in wellness programs. Their use of programs was up 8%, while Generation X use was down 5% and Baby boomers’ use was down 4%.