Benefits and Compensation, Learning & Development

Addressing the Second Pandemic: Employee Mental Health

Two years into the pandemic, employee burnout continues to rage on. 

According to a 2021 American Psychological Association survey of over 1,500 U.S. workers, 79% of them experienced some form of work-related stress a month before the survey was conducted. Almost 3 in 5 respondents said they’ve suffered symptoms of burnout, such as loss of motivation and a lack of effort at work. What was especially upsetting is that 44% said they’ve experienced physical fatigue because of work—an astounding 38% increase since the beginning of the pandemic. 

mental health

It’s easy for employers to blame the virus and the stressful, sudden transition to remote work as solely responsible for this widespread decline in employee mental health. But I think it goes deeper than that. 

Poorly managed workplaces that lack the infrastructure or ability to provide adequate mental health support are the root cause of this workplace-specific epidemic. In America, where “hustle culture” reigns, employees often have to fight tooth and nail to maintain some semblance of work/life balance—a claim substantiated in a 2022 Economist Impact report stating that only a third of surveyed employees were able to maintain a decent work/life balance during the first 18 months of the pandemic as they worked from home. 

It’s All About Company Culture

After all, as stated in a 2021 Mind Share Partners report, employees who felt their mental health was adequately supported by their employer were “2.7 times more likely to be satisfied with their job” and “2.5 times more likely to intend to stay at their company.” So there’s a silver lining here. Employers can attract and retain valuable talent if they invest in proper avenues of mental health support and cultivating an empathetic workplace. 

The Great Resignation is merely a byproduct of a broader societal trend wherein employees are finally choosing to prioritize their mental health over long work hours and toxic workplace dynamics. It’s not always about better pay, although that’s also crucial to talent retention. The issue lies in unrealistic workplace expectations and what employees are willing to sacrifice to succeed at their jobs. 

According to a 2019 collaborative study by the Lumina Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network, and Gallup, more than half of U.S. workers feel unhappy at work. As the cost of living continues to soar, companies now have more cause to support their employees both in and out of the workplace, whether that be through unique perks, like wellness stipends and in-office mental health support systems, or providing better insurance coverage of mental health services like therapy. 

The Bottom Line

COVID-19 was a game-changer in many respects, as it created opportunities for employees to distance themselves from unhealthy work environments and seriously reevaluate their career choices. It also provided an opportunity for employers to shift their priorities, as well, pushing them to build workplaces that actively embrace emotional vulnerability instead of punishing it.

Rajnish Sinha is Chief People Officer at TaskUs.