As the pandemic grinds on through a second year, many American workers are feeling the pressure, and many say they intend to leave their jobs within a year, according to a new survey from the American Psychological Association.
Work stress related to low salaries, long hours and a lack of opportunity for growth and advancement has increased since the start of the pandemic. More than 4 in 10 workers said they plan to switch jobs in the coming year, which could impact many industries already facing a shortage of workers, particularly the hospitality and healthcare sectors.
However, there are actions that employers can take to improve employee well-being and support mental health.
APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll among more than 1,500 U.S. employees between July 26 and Aug. 4, 2021.
Nearly 6 in 10 (59%) reported experiencing negative impacts of work-related stress. Low salaries (56%, up from 49% in 2019), long hours (54%, up from 46%) and lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (52%, up from 44%) were most commonly reported as having a very or somewhat significant impact on stress levels at work, according to the poll.
More than 2 in 5 employees (44%) said that they intend to seek employment outside of their company or organization in the next year, up from around 1 in 3 (32%) in 2019. (APA did not conduct a similar survey in 2020.) But among some marginalized communities, the numbers were even more striking – 58% of Hispanic employees, 57% of Black employees, 56% of LGBTQ+ employees and 63% of workers with disabilities said that they intend to seek a job with another employer in the next year.
“Stress at work can have broad negative consequences for employers and employees alike, including loss of productivity, high turnover, and repercussions for the employee’s physical and emotional health,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD., APA’s chief executive officer. “A workplace that pays attention to worker well-being is better positioned to recruit and retain engaged and productive staff.”
Nearly six in ten workers (59%) said that they had experienced negative impacts of work-related stress in the prior month including a lack of interest, motivation or energy (26%), difficulty focusing (21%) or a lack of effort at work (19%). More than two-thirds of front-line workers (67%) reported experiencing negative impacts of work-related stress and more than 1 in 3 (35%) said they had felt fed up at work quite frequently or more often in the past 30 days.
Workers who perform manual labor or work in customer service, sales or entertainment were more likely than those who work in desk jobs to say they had experienced symptoms of physical fatigue (51% and 53% vs. 38%, respectively), cognitive weariness (41% and 44% vs. 29%) and emotional exhaustion (41% and 40% vs. 25%) at work quite frequently or more often in the past 30 days.
There are steps that employers can take to improve employee well-being and possibly reduce turnover. The vast majority of employees (87%) said they thought actions from their employer would help their mental health, including flexible hours (34%), encouraging employees to take care of their health (32%), encouraging employees to use paid time off (30%) and encouraging breaks during the workday (30%).
“During the pandemic, many employers switched to remote work where possible, thus providing greater flexibility for their employees,” Evans said. “Policies that promote flexible hours and breaks during the workday and provide other forms of support for employees to take care of themselves may also help employers retain staff in competitive markets.”
To achieve a psychologically healthy workplace, women were more likely than men to say employers should pay employees fairly (50% vs. 43%) and allow flexibility (47% vs. 36%). Women were less likely than men to say they receive adequate monetary compensation for their contributions at work (65% vs. 74%), according to the survey.
If they could only have one extra perk from their employer, one third of employees (33%) said they want more money, followed by more flexibility (14%), more time off (13%) or more benefits (12%). One in 10 (10%) said more meaningful work was their top priority.
The 2021 Work and Wellbeing Survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) between July 26 and August 4, 2021 among 1,501 adults age 18+ who reside in the U.S. who are employed full-time, part-time, or self-employed. Results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income to be representative of the U.S. employed population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in online surveys. Because the sample is based on those who were invited to participate in online research panels, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
A front-line job is defined as directly involved with production or products or providing services, such as sales, secretarial, bookkeeping, clerical, customer service, etc.