Anxiety rising in the Kiwi workforce

30 Sep, 2021
 
Jarrod Haar
Professor Jarrod Haar

Kiwi employees are worried about job security – and new findings reflect their anxiety levels.

Crunching data from an ongoing Wellbeing@Work study, AUT Business School Professor Jarrod Haar has found levels of job anxiety steadily grew from May 2020 to December 2020 and to April 2021.

The iterative survey involved just over 1000 participants in each of the three periods studied. While each cohort is distinct, the three groups all comprised participants of similar age range (roughly 39 years on average), gender (roughly 50/50 male/female split), and employment sector (roughly 70% private sector).

Professor Haar analysed levels of job anxiety (defined as “low pleasure and high mental arousal from work”) and job depression (defined as “low pleasure and low arousal from work”).

The findings are sobering. Job anxiety rose significantly between May and December 2020 and again in April 2021. Depression from the job increased markedly between May and December 2020 but stabilised in April 2021.

What do those numbers show? Professor Haar posits that growing numbers of the workforce feel they are getting less enjoyment from their work, but they also describe the racing and “spinning” of their minds since the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Professor Haar notes that, although anxiety and depression levels are not critically high, the failure for anxiety to drop over the better part of a year shows that Kiwis remain deeply worried and anxious about, and because of, their jobs.

“The biggest driver of this mental health concern is a persistent worry about job insecurity. This has remained relatively high and unchanged across the three time periods. Kiwis are worried about their job and future,” says Professor Haar.

Further, he contends, the study shows that organisations generally have struggled to aid worker wellbeing since the first lockdown in 2020.

“When employees feel that their organisation cares about their wellbeing, anxiety and depression levels among staff tend to drop” says Professor Haar. “To help keep staff anxiety levels at bay, companies must communicate clearly with employees about their concerns – especially job security."

The data clearly show a decline in the mental health of the NZ workforce. Findings of note include:

  • Overall, managers had similar levels as employees job anxiety and job depression across all studies (May 2020, December 2020, April 2021).
  • Overall, managers had similar levels as employees towards job insecurity across May 2020 and December 2020. However, managers have greater job insecurity in April 2021.
  • Overall, managers had significantly higher levels compared to employees of how supportive they felt their organisation cares for their wellbeing.
  • Overall, females had similar levels as males towards job anxiety and job depression across all studies (May 2020, December 2020, April 2021).
  • Overall, females had similar levels as males job insecurity across May 2020 and December 2020. However, females reported greater job insecurity in April 2021 than males.
  • Overall, females had similar levels as males towards organisational perceptions of wellbeing support for workers across all studies (May 2020, December 2020, April 2021).
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