- After almost a year of lockdowns and social isolation, the mental health of many workers is continuing to decline.
- Research from Total Brain’s Mental Health Index reveals that anxiety levels, ability to focus, and even memory performance have suffered.
- A return to the workplace could help, but employers must prioritize their communications to ensure employees are well-informed and confident about returning to their place of work.
When the coronavirus pandemic first started early in 2020, many expected the chaos to last a few months. At the time, it was hard to imagine how deeply it would alter our work and lifestyles.
And yet, the pandemic continues… and the mental health struggles of workers continue to mount as months and months of lockdowns and social isolation appear to have no end in sight.
As a result, the mental stamina of workers is plummeting and has reached new lows.
This is according to Total Brain’s latest Mental Health Index, which examined the state of mental health among U.S. workers from November to December 2020.
The Index found that mental strain continued, and in some cases worsened, during the final month of 2020.
“December’s Mental Health Index revealed that non-conscious negativity increased from November to December, feelings of depressive mood trended upward, and stress and anxiety remain elevated.”
Not even the hope of a potentially better year (2021) seemed to brighten up the spirits of workers. And considering how things are going so far in 2021, it’s likely that these struggles will continue for some months to come.
The State of Mental Health Among American Workers
The index found that overall, mental health worsened in December.
- 26%: Anxiety has been climbing since August, remains 45% above February’s anxiety level
- 48%: Risk of Depressive Disorder was significantly higher in December vs. November
- 62%: Drop in sustained attention showed workers are struggling to focus
- 22%: Stress is up since February, with a 13% increase just since August
- 8%: Memory worsened among U.S. workers in December.
It’s worth noting that throughout the course of 2020, some mental health issues seemed to improve as the months went by. That was until December came around.
“Non-conscious negativity spiked at the beginning of the pandemic, but then decreased for several months. By November, working Americans were 6% less negative than they were at the beginning of February. However, that changed in December when non-conscious negativity jumped up 9%.”
Why These Findings Matter
If workers are suffering due to mental health issues, then their work is suffering as well.
As more workers report feeling more stressed, more depressed, and more anxious, it’s no surprise that their performance at work has been affected.
“Stress and anxiety are known to negatively impact cognition. There is undoubtedly a connection between the decreased cognition that spanned across the workforce in December, and the increase in stress and anxiety in recent months.”
Total Brain’s index found that:
- Cognition declined in December.
- Worker’s memory capacity dropped 8% from November to December.
- Workers aged 20-39 experienced an 11% drop in memory.
- Ability to focus dropped 62% during December.
Why Employers Are Concerned
A core priority for businesses around the world is employee wellbeing. It is critical for business success that companies start investing more in the mental health of employees.
Depression, burnout, stress, and anxiety have reached new highs; it’s important that leaders think of creative ways to address these issues before they spiral out of control.
Will the Return to the Workplace Help?
For many, the return to the workplace offers some light at the end of the tunnel. But employers need to consider that for various employees, returning to the office will only become an additional source of stress and anxiety.
This is why employers need to prioritize their return-to-work communications. It’s important for businesses to align their communications and actions with official guidelines and recommendations. Doing so will help ease some of the stress and anxiety that will naturally come with going back to crowded spaces.
Isolation, loneliness, and depression levels are expected to decrease as people go back to the office given that this will provide some escape from the monotony of working from home. The office will become a safe haven, especially for those who are craving social interactions and thrive from working around others.