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80% Of Employees Report ‘Productivity Anxiety’ And Lower Well-Being In New Study


In March of this year, I reported on a study showing that anxiety has become the number one problem among American workers. The latest data analysis ComPsych Analysis—based on a representative sample of more than 300,000 U.S. cases—found that anxiety is now the number one problem among American workers, surpassing depression, stress, marital/relationship problems, family problems and addiction and grief, among other issues for which people sought help. .


I recently cited the 2024 results of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Mental Health Survey show that American adults are feeling increasingly anxious. In 2024, nearly half (43%) of the U.S. population say they feel more anxious than the previous year, up from 37% in 2023 and 32% in 2022. Globally, the APA study finds that Americans are anxious about current events (70%), the economy (77%), the upcoming US presidential election (73%) and gun violence (69%). Other anxiety-provoking issues weighing on the American workforce include global conflicts, racism and political strife, mass shootings, climate-related disasters, and a turbulent economy. I described an easy and useful tool to mitigate anxiety in a recent article for Forbes.com.

Some employees struggle daily with “productivity anxiety”

There is now more data to show that “productivity anxiety”—the feeling that there is always more one should be doing—is pervasive in this country’s workplace. TO human worker A survey of 1,000 full-time employees found that 61% of American workers say they are productive at work, but it comes at a cost. A full 80% report having “productivity anxiety” and more than a third have it several times a week.


“Productivity anxiety” is highest among Generation Z: 30% struggle with it daily and 58% struggle with it several times a week. Meeting deadlines is the leading indicator of having a “good day” (68%), and making mistakes tops the list as a sign of a “bad day” at work (49%).

I spoke via email with Dr. Meisha-Ann Martin, Senior Director of People Research and Analytics at Workhuman. Martin told me that “productivity anxiety” is a global phenomenon and that Americans, especially, are obsessed with productivity and hustle culture. She recognizes that our obsession with productivity prioritizes performance over well-being, leading to burnout, stress, and a lower quality of life. Martin believes the challenge is finding a balance that promotes efficiency and success without compromising physical and mental health.

“Fueled by the technology boom of the 1990s, hustle culture has glorified overwork, promoting the idea that constant productivity is a badge of honor that lies at the cornerstone of success and innovation,” says. “This narrative teaches employees that to achieve their professional goals, they must constantly strive to perform better, often at the expense of personal well-being and mental health.”

According to Martin, widespread layoffs have also had a major impact on productivity anxiety and well-being. “More than a third of respondents say they are personally affected by layoffs or work at an organization that has made layoffs in the past year,” she notes. “In addition to causing anxiety about job security and reducing trust between employees and employers, layoffs can also increase concerns about workload. “Layoffs often transfer additional responsibilities to remaining employees, increasing their stress and pressure to take on more work and protect themselves against potential future layoffs.”

The costs of America’s productivity obsession

Reports from the American Institute of Stress that workplace stress costs American employers more than $300 billion annually due to absenteeism, turnover, decreased productivity, and direct medical, legal, and insurance costs. Ironically, the WHO estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.

In terms of psychological costs, Martin recognizes that the relationship between employee well-being and productivity is complex and multifaceted, adding that “productivity anxiety” can lead to feeling dissatisfied with progress or overwhelmed by an endless list of problems. pending tasks and a fear of failure. “When a person’s drive to achieve is motivated by doubt or fear, it can cause ongoing physical and psychological stress,” he notes. This tension not only affects the individual but can also permeate team dynamics and ultimately shape the culture of an entire organization.”

What employers should do to mitigate the problem

1- Establish clear expectations and objectives. Martin emphasizes the importance of people leaders setting clear expectations of what “productivity” means within their team and the broader organization. “Collaborate with employees to set realistic goals that align with broader business objectives,” he suggests. “Also, prioritize tasks by identifying what is most impactful or urgent and ensuring team members have a clear understanding of these priorities. This approach not only reduces uncertainty but also improves team concentration and productivity.”

2- Give recognition and frequent feedback. Martin cites recognition and feedback as crucial functions in mitigating productivity anxiety. “Respondents around the world indicate that receiving recognition or awards for their work, receiving more frequent feedback, and having a clear understanding of their impact on business goals are the most effective ways to reduce productivity anxiety,” he explains. “Our studies consistently show that employees who receive regular recognition experience lower levels of burnout and higher rates of well-being. While recognition does not change workload, it reassures people about their performance and reduces some of the subjective aspects of productivity anxiety. This fosters a positive work environment where employees feel valued, motivated and confident in their contributions.”

3- Register periodically. Martin recommends going beyond traditional annual or quarterly reviews by implementing an ongoing performance management process. “This modern, human-centered approach emphasizes promoting, evaluating and improving employee performance through regular, targeted check-ins that focus on both the person and their job,” he insists, suggesting that leaders: ” Create actionable milestones to track and celebrate progress.” rather than simply completing the project. Managers should also be taught how to create a sense of psychological safety in which employees can share how they really feel. Creating a workplace where employees feel safe and valued leads to healthier, more sustainable productivity that benefits everyone, not just the bottom line. “It is about creating workplaces that prioritize human needs, aligning them with organizational objectives to foster a performance culture that is both humane and effective.”

4- Promote rest and well-being. Martin advises educating employees about the benefits and wellness tools available to them. “Encourage the use of paid time off, actively listen to the challenges employees face in managing their workloads, and watch for signs of burnout,” he concludes. Promoting a balance between work and rest is key to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce.”

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