Front-line workers are more likely to be anxious and depressed, survey finds

Dive Brief:

  • A new study confirms that front-line workers have significantly higher mental health needs than their nonfront-line colleagues: Nearly two-thirds (61%) are more likely to suffer from depression and 33% are more likely to suffer anxiety, according to the findings, released Feb. 8 by digital workforce resilience platform meQuilibrium. Yet, when faced with high stress, front-line workers are 30% less likely to seek out professional assistance compared to their nonfront-line counterparts, a survey of 1,138 U.S.-based workers found.
  • “Frontline workers regularly interact with frustrated customers, work irregular shifts, lack paid time off, and have minimal autonomy over duties assigned by managers, which can contribute to higher rates of burnout, anxiety, depression and secondary traumatic stress, compared to their corporate colleagues,” Dr. Brad Smith, meQuilibrium’s chief science officer, stated in a release. “Unfortunately, frontline workers are often unaware of their well-being options and their irregular hours can impede appointment scheduling, resulting in a gap between their needs and use of relevant benefits,” Smith explained.
  • Employers have a vested interest in closing that knowledge gap, given the powerful connection between mental well-being and performance, Smith noted. This can be done through proactive outreach and education, which in turn can lead to a healthier, more productive workplace across industries like transportation, healthcare, manufacturing and hospitality, he said.

Dive Insight:

Employees are coming off a tough year trying to keep their mental well-being intact, according to numerous studies.

For example, more than three-quarters of employers surveyed last year by the Business Group on Health saw increased mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorder among their workers. That’s a stark jump from the 44% of employers in 2022, the August 2023 report found.

Work burdens can have the strongest effect on mental health, according to a May 2023 report from The Conference Board. Nearly half of workers reporting lower mental health also worked more than 50 hours per week, a survey by the group found. Respondents also reported mental health challenges related to poor workplace communication, poor work-life balance and time spent in meetings.

The steep increase in mental health issues signals a need for services and support. But employee assistance programs, on which many employers rely to help workers address mental health concerns, are widely underused, an expert has noted.

One reason may be the stigma associated with mental health issues or with EAPs specifically, the expert said. Another is the lack of employee understanding about the value EAPs can provide, such as assisting with depression or anxiety or by helping workers deal with other life problems that contribute to this condition. 

Organizations can improve employee accessibility early on by educating new hires during onboarding about their EAPs, an attorney previously pointed out. Such education may be particularly important for front-line workers, who are not always open to getting support for mental health issues. For instance, they’re more likely than their nonfront-line peers to say they don’t have an issue with stress and more likely to say they haven’t sought help, the meQuilibrium survey found.

Instead, when front-line workers experience troublesome levels of stress, anxiety or burnout, their first response is to take time off from the job, which they do reluctantly because it often means losing pay, meQuilibrium noted. Such findings highlight why organizations need to prioritize awareness and access to mental well-being benefits, Smith emphasized.

Front-line workers are ahead in one important area. Research has shown they develop significantly more resilience — the skill that protects workers from burnout risk — than nonfront-line workers, meQuilibrium said.