Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers faced a burnout crisis due to stressful working conditions such as taxing work, exposure to infectious diseases, long hours, and challenging interactions with coworkers, patients, and their families.
However, research has indicated that since the pandemic, U.S. health workers experienced a 249% increase in rates of work-related injury and illness between 2019 and 2020, and that health workers experienced increased harassment and violence, which can increase the risk for symptoms of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and suicidal ideation.
A new Vital Signs report from the CDC explores how the COVID-19 pandemic intensified mental health concerns among healthcare workers, using data from the General Social Survey Quality of Worklife (QWL) Module.
The QWL module contains questions on working and mental health condition. The CDC made data comparisons between 2018, which included 1,443 respondents – 226 of which were health workers – and 2022, which included 1,952 respondents – 325 of which were health workers.
Perceptions of working conditions were measured using five single ordinal items, including:
- Do workers trust management?
- Were workers harassed at work?
- Was there enough time to accomplish work?
- Did working conditions support productivity?
- Were supervisors helpful?
Worker-reported well-being outcomes including:
- General happiness
- Frequency of sleep problems
- Days of poor mental health during the previous 30 days
- Turnover intention
According to the data analysis, health workers reported an increase of 1.2 days of poor mental health during the previous 30 days (from 3.3 days to 4.5 days), and that approximately 45.6% of health workers reported feeling burnout often or very often in 2022. These increases were significantly higher in the healthcare field when compared to other occupational industries.
The percentage of health workers who reported being very likely to look for a new job with another employer increased from 11.1% to 16.5%, and overall, 44.2% of health workers reported being somewhat likely or very likely to look for a new job in 2022.
The data also found that health worker reports of being harassed at work more than doubled, from 6.4% in 2018 to 13.4% in 2022. The rates of trusting management decreased from 28.8% in 2018 to 21.8% in 2022.
Among health workers who reported being harassed, the odds of reporting anxiety, depression, and burnout were significantly increased. Those harassed at work were:
- 5.08 times more likely to have anxiety
- 3.38 times more likely to be depressed
- 5.83 times more likely to experience burnout
Data also indicated that health workers were more likely to be women than were respondents in the other worker group.