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State of ‘Permacrisis’ Taking a Hit on Employees’ Mental Health

MetLife’s annual benefits report underscores ‘urgent need’ for more benefits support

Person at their desk at night with their hands on their head, signaling burnout

Employees are experiencing more mental health struggles and overall negative feelings about their work, underscoring an “urgent need” for employers to take more aggressive measures to help with their benefits offerings.

Employees are now more likely to experience negative feelings at work, including stress (12 percent more likely) and burnout (17 percent more likely) than they were pre-pandemic (2019), according to new data from MetLife. Employees are also 51 percent more likely to feel depressed at work than they were pre-pandemic as they face what the insurer calls a “complex macro environment and permacrisis state”—a state which has included the pandemic, persistent high inflation, international turmoil and war, and more.

Those are among the findings in MetLife’s 22nd annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, released March 18—data indicating that employers may have to revisit benefits offerings to not only support employees, but retain them.

“Against the backdrop of a permacrisis, this year’s study underscores the urgent need for employers to acknowledge the modern challenges that impact their workforce and take steps,” said Todd Katz, executive vice president and head of group benefits at MetLife.

Benefits should be at the center of those steps, he said, as they play “a critical role in demonstrating care and driving employees’ well-being.

“Focusing on benefit utilization supports holistic health, maximizes the value of benefits for both employees and employers, and drives key business outcomes,” he said.

Financial concerns and persistent high costs of living—which other reports suggest are causing a significant number of employees to live paycheck to paycheck—are the top reasons for poor mental health among employees in 2024, cited by 45 percent. Rates are higher among women (51 percent) and Generation X workers (52 percent). Meanwhile, 67 percent of employees are concerned about losing the value of their savings due to inflation or other market forces.

Stress from reasons outside of work (cited by 36 percent of employees and 47 percent of workers with a disability), balancing home and work life (33 percent), and from the state of the economy (32 percent) are other reasons for poor mental health.

MetLife’s new data comes on the heels of several other reports finding that employee mental health—as well as employees feeling their employer cares about them—is on the decline.

A ComPsych report released earlier this month found that mental health-related leaves of absence are surging in the workplace, up 33 percent in 2023 over 2022, and overall up a whopping 300 percent from 2017 to 2023. A recent report from mental health provider Lyra Health found that 87 percent of employees faced at least one mental health challenge in the last year. And an Aflac report last year found that well over half of employees (57 percent) are experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout, while about half of employees said they don’t believe their company really cares about them.

MetLife’s findings come one year after its previous annual report found that employees’ satisfaction with their benefits dropped to a decade low. That report also found that 42 percent of employees say they don’t feel cared for by their employer.

Some Good News

Not all the news from MetLife’s annual report is bad: The study finds that some gains have been made over the past year. Employees’ satisfaction with their benefits is up slightly, to 65 percent, from 61 percent last year.

Alongside rising satisfaction with benefits, MetLife indicated employees’ “growing interest in more tailored offerings, communication and decision-making support in choosing from available offerings.”

Holistic well-being—a measure of employee perceptions of their own physical, mental, financial and social health—rose by 3 percentage points in 2024, from 41 percent to 44 percent, returning to 2022 levels.

And job loyalty saw a slight jump to 75 percent from 73 percent in 2023. While that number remains below the pre-pandemic peak of 80 percent in 2018, this year’s gain is a pointed improvement from 2022, when 70 percent of employees said they intended to be working at their current organization in 12 months.

Increasing Employee Expectations

The research comes amid the backdrop of rising employee expectations, Katz said. The report found that employees are looking for more help, particularly with their financial and mental well-being.

The MetLife data underscores a disconnect, though, in terms of employees feeling cared about and supported by their employer. For instance, among employees who went through a significant unplanned financial stress/expense, 86 percent said it had a high impact on them, but only 48 percent felt that their employer demonstrated care during the experience. And 81 percent of employees who experienced an ongoing mental health condition said it had a major impact on them, yet just half agreed that their employer demonstrated care toward them.

“Employers need to assess what care means to their workforce and recognize employees’ expectations of care both at and outside of work,” Katz said. “While care should have an always-on approach, there are key moments when employees are looking to their employers to provide support. Life moments, including unplanned financial stress, are less visible to employers but have significant impact on employees, including how they show up at work. Identifying strategies to demonstrate care when employees need it most leads to more successful workforces.”

Boosted benefits communication and enhanced offerings—like financial wellness solutions, life insurance, retirement benefits and mental health benefits—can help. They will also have a positive impact on employers, Katz said.

The MetLife data, for instance, found that employees who understand and use their benefits are significantly more likely to feel cared for (88 percent) by their employer, compared with those who don’t (34 percent). In return, employees who feel cared for are 60 percent more likely to intend to be at their organization in 12 months and 55 percent more likely to feel productive at work.

“When employees feel cared for, there is a ripple effect across the organization,” Katz said. “When employers aren’t prioritizing delivering care to their employees, they risk a workforce that’s not only less holistically healthy and happy, but also less engaged, loyal and productive.”

A clear and tangible way for employers to demonstrate care is by offering tailored benefits for employees’ current needs—both in and out of the office, Katz said.

“Ultimately, employers should think about how delivering care and the role of benefits fit together,” he said. “Employers should consider whether their benefits strategy meets employees in the moments that matter most.”


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