After the Pandemic: Getting Exhausted and Stressed Workers Back on Track

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) recently asked its members to create a word cloud answering the question, “When you think of the impact the past 1+ years has had on you, what word comes to mind?” 

Of course, with word clouds, the more people that respond with a given word, the bigger that word becomes.  One word truly stood out in responses from members: exhausted.

These senior-level executives of health benefits, retirement, and financial services providers, associations, and plan sponsors described being over-worked, burned out, drained, anxious, stressed, and feeling adrift — among other things. Some did note positives, such as spending more time with family, learning to be a better leader, and getting in touch with what really matters. However, far more noted being stuck, feeling like they were in the movie Groundhog Day, and experiencing a lack of belonging and disconnection.

The experience of EBRI members corresponds to findings by author Jennifer Moss, who surveyed more than 1,500 people from 46 countries in various sectors, roles, and seniority levels. She found that in response to COVID-19, respondents overwhelmingly reported that their work life was getting worse, that their well-being had declined, and that they were struggling to manage their workloads and had experienced burnout “often” or “extremely often” in the previous three months.

One antidote to workplace burnout, of course, is engagement. But how do employers re-engage a work force that has been isolated, financially stressed, and emotionally drained? And what benefits are available and effective to facilitate this? These are questions the EBRI will explore in the remainder of 2021 and beyond.

Physical, Emotional, and Financial Health

For example, EBRI is currently working with Greenwald Research and a dozen sponsors to design the 2021 Workplace Wellness Survey (WWS).[1] The survey will garner worker perceptions on how well employers are helping them navigate the challenges they are facing when it comes to physical, emotional, and financial health considerations. For example, the WWS will delve into how telework has impacted workers’ financial well-being, mental health, and physical well-being and health. It will also explore how workers value caregiving and paid time-off benefits. Also, this year for the first time, the survey will explore differences among diverse populations when it comes to workplace wellbeing — including Hispanic and Black Americans’ experiences in these areas.

In a separate employer survey through EBRI’s Financial Wellbeing Research Center,[2] EBRI will query employers about how they are changing their focus when it comes to financial wellness benefits in light of the current environment. Areas of exploration will include: Are emergency savings vehicles becoming more central to financial wellness benefits, and if so, what do they look like? Are employers increasing their efforts to financially support caregivers? How are furloughed or laid-off workers being accommodated as they re-enter the workplace?

Mental Health and Stress

Through EBRI’s health benefits research, we’ll explore how COVID-19 may have contributed to the demand for mental health services, including spending on mental health as well as use and spending among those with mental health conditions.

The 2021 Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey[3] will specifically focus on employee stress: the amount of stress workers are experiencing, the causes of stress, and the use of behavioral health and mental health services to combat this stress.

The Impact of Policymaking

Clearly, policymakers can also play a role in getting exhausted and stressed workers back on track. Last month, I testified at a Senate HELP Committee hearing that, among other things, sought to understand the role of the employer and emergency savings. Responses to the Workplace Wellness Survey have shown that workers not only want but expect their employers’ support when it comes to physical, mental, and financial wellness.[4] But EBRI analysis also shows the limitations of relying on existing workplace savings vehicles to support such needs as emergency savings.[5] Instead, the testimony contemplated the impact of alternatives, such as dedicated workplace emergency savings accounts. As policymaking evolves in these areas, EBRI will continue to seek to provide needed education on these topics.

Join Us in Being Part of the Solution

EBRI is always looking for partners to work with us as we explore research topics. If you or your organization are interested in the topic of workplace stress and mental health, let us know. The more thought leadership we have around these issues, the better we will be able to successfully navigate our way out the other end of this pandemic.






About ebriorg
President and CEO, EBRI

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