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It should be no surprise that among the many industries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, two essential industries were hardest hit—tech and healthcare, according to a new meQuilibrium study. Both industries were immediately affected at the onset of COVID-19’s progression across the US. meQuilibrium surveyed 7,000 workers from different industries from December 2019 to June 2020 and compared changes in job stress, burnout, motivation, and sleep.

Tech workers had to scramble to shift their company’s technologies to work as effectively and as well at home as it functioned in the office. Not only did they have to address the most expedient method of change, but had to be on-call troubleshooters.

Tech industry employees suffered the broadest negative changes of any industry, and showed double-digit increases in

  • Job stress (11%)
  • Disordered sleep (14%)
  • Burnout (23%)
  • as well as a 40% drop in motivation.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Frontline healthcare workers had the greatest decrease in motivation (down 48%).

The communication industry, despite limited front-line exposure and largely supportive employers came in third; their stress increased 30%, and motivation decreased 33%.

The financial and insurance agencies skirted COVID-19-related burnout, but were challenged with motivation, which dropped to 32% and 11% reported a lack of sleep.

“The cumulative impact of the pandemic has been devastating to workers’ mental well-being,” said Brad Smith, chief science officer, meQuilibrium, in a press release. “The specific challenges employees face differ dramatically by industry, age and gender, yet the overall trend clearly shows the tremendous strain of the pandemic in increased stress, burnout, diminished motivation, and the inability to remain consistently positive.”

Gender issues: Women’s stress levels increased by nearly 20%, while men’s job stress increased 1.6%. This may be accounted for by the fact that women, in addition to working from home, bear the brunt of facilitating their children’s online studies, while preparing meals and cleaning the home. Women, consequently, had a substantially more decreased motivation, 31% than men, 21%,

Age played a role as well, with a 23% increase in disordered sleep for workers who were less than 40-years-old, but only 1% in older workers. The report found a 45% decrease in motivation for those less than 40, but just 14% drop in motivation for those over 40. The younger group showed a 19% increase in burnout but the older group only experienced 3% risk of burnout.

Employer support can quell some of the negative impact

If employees feel their employer understands the pressures of the pandemic, the level of stress they feel is significantly less than if they feel their employer doesn’t care: Those unsupported by their employer reached 10-times more the level of stress and increased in symptoms of burnout, disordered sleep, and motivation difficulties were also all substantially higher among those who did not feel supported by an employer.

“Employer support for employee well-being can help reduce behavioral health risk, as well as improve engagement and commitment from employees,” Smith said. “Resilience is a crucial skill, as study participants with the highest resilience levels managed the negative effects of COVID-19 significantly better than those with low or moderate resilience.”

meQuilibrium’s report concludes by stating that the pandemic has taken a “significant toll on worker well-being” and offers three “avenues for action:”

First, employer support to employees produces highly significant well-being benefits. Support can be more flexible working hours, providing necessary tools and technology so employees can work from home more effectively, or providing resources to support active self-care and build coping strategies. The key element is sincerely meeting employees’ practical and emotional needs, according to the report. Reduced behavior health risks and improved engagement and commitment from employees are the results of this support.

Second, rather than offer general, blanketed “support” to the entire company, the support should be directed to the areas/departments where it’s most needed. Because the study’s findings showed that younger employees and women are at particularly high risk for negative outcomes, employers should start by addressing this population.

Lastly, the report says, employers need to encourage resilience because it’s so strongly tied to positive outcomes and holds plenty of potential for improving near-term well-being and setting a strong protective foundation for future challenges.


To be selected for the more lengthy survey, the chosen 7,000 respondents had to first answer three questions: “My work location has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic;” “My job is an essential frontline role with high risk COVID-19 exposure;” and “My employer is doing a good job supporting employees related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Respondents were given an incentive: $1 donated on their behalf to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Data gathered was HIPAA compliant.