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Employee Burnout Up as Employers Pull Back on Support for Mental Health Benefits

Employees are more stressed and burned out by work today than they were at the start of the pandemic, and they're increasingly looking to employers for mental health benefits and solutions, according to survey data released today by Headspace for Work, Headspace's enterprise business that offers mindfulness products and services to help companies build healthier, more productive cultures and higher-performing organizations.

Employees report work stress, burnout, and work-life balance as greater concerns this year, according to a survey of more than 5,000 working adults in the U.S. and four other countries across 21 industries. Survey respondents also say their employers are doing a worse job supporting mental health during the pandemic than they were a year ago and that employers are providing fewer mental health benefits and resources — a 13% drop.

Burnout — which the World Health Organization says is caused by chronic stress — is up 10% in the U.S. (8% higher globally) in 2021 compared with the 2020 survey. The good news is that people say their stress is easing — 54% of people reported being stressed or extremely stressed this year, compared with 61% in 2020. While people are reporting lower levels of stress, they are feeling the effects of the past year's sustained crises.

"We see things steadily improving, but we still have a long road to help people find a state of normal and for employers to provide the needed resources to support employee mental health," said Cindy Bladow, Chief Business Officer at Headspace. "People are still trying to adjust to a situation that is changing constantly, and the stress is taking a toll on everyone. Employer-provided mental health solutions have never been more in demand."

Almost two-thirds of employees are using mental health solutions offered by employers, up slightly from last year — 59% reported use in May 2020, compared with 64% in 2021 — an 8.5% increase, according to the survey.

At the same time, fewer employees think their employers are doing an excellent or very good job of responding to COVID-19, dropping from 41% to 29%. And 18% fewer employees report having employer-provided mental health solutions at their disposal in 2021 compared with 2020.

Along with flexibility and work-from-home options, people now rank mental health benefits among their top three perks when considering a new job.

"Talent leaders who want to attract and retain great workers need to address the rise of employee burnout and answer the call for employer-provided mental health solutions," said Dr. Clare Purvis, Senior Director of Behavioral Science, Headspace. "Employees are telling us they want solutions that will help them minimize their stress, find more focus, and bring their best selves to work."

This year's survey was sent to employees in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and Australia, and included workers from industries including healthcare, education, retail, telecom, tech, finance, and manufacturing.

Other key findings in the Headspace for Work 2021 Mental Health Trends Report, "Rising Work Stress and Burnout":

• Employees' use of mental health solutions is up 8.5%, increasing from 59% in 2020 to 64% in 2021.
• Three in four people say mental health solutions should be backed by science, unchanged from last year's survey.
• Fewer employers are providing mental health solutions to employees (-13%), even though more than half of all employees believe employer-provided mental health solutions are essential benefits.
• Financial worries (47%) and work-life balance (38%) remain top sources of stress, followed by work-related stress at 36%. Fewer people cited health or politics as sources of stress, which fell 18% and 41%, respectively.
• Retirement savings plans ranked second among job seekers on last year's survey while mental health benefits ranked fourth. Retirement savings plans fell to fourth this year while mental health benefits moved into third behind flexible hours and work-from-home options.
• While overall stress fell slightly this year, women (58%) remain more stressed than men (46%), reporting being stressed or extremely stressed.

The complete results of the Mental Health Trends Report and Headspace for Work's science team's take on the survey findings can be found here.