New research from The Hartford found 42 percent of U.S. workers report declines in their mental health, while a similar percentage (43 percent) have delayed routine health care appointments since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The researchers note that the delays in health care come as many also report declines in their social well-being (41 percent), financial security (32 percent) and physical health (29 percent) as well as in their mental health.

The Hartford has been tracking workplace burnout levels among U.S. workers throughout the pandemic. The latest survey found that the burnout rate remained high at 61 percent in January—the same level reported in February and July of 2021.

This burnout rate and declining health are reflected in the way many U.S. workers feel about their jobs. Most respondents (63 percent) said their overall health/wellness impacts their productivity at work, while 30 percent noted they’re less engaged with their work. About 25 percent said they have trouble concentrating or focusing.

“It is difficult to overcome the fear and fatigue we’re all experiencing amid the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it is important that people get back to prioritizing routine health visits and screenings to stay physically and mentally healthy,” said The Hartford’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adam Seidner. “Many health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, may not be noticeable or detected without routine screenings. These types of conditions, when they continue to develop undetected, can lead to more serious health problems.”

According to the insurer’s January 2022 Future of Benefits Pulse Survey, the reasons workers are putting off appointments include a fear of contracting COVID-19, difficulty getting an appointment and the need to cancel appointments due to COVID-19 requirements.

Seidner said employers can play a key role in helping to remove some of the barriers to health care. “I encourage employers to continue to offer the flexibility needed to ensure their employees can take key steps to improve their mental and physical health—and avoid the dangers of delayed care,” he said.

According to an analysis of The Hartford’s 2021 short-term disability claims data, the top employee injuries and illnesses are: musculoskeletal injuries, such as neck or back pain; COVID-19; digestive disorders, such as hernias or appendicitis; mental health conditions and rheumatologic disorders, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Seidner notes that these types of illnesses and injuries can be treated before becoming a disabling condition or can be managed well by keeping up with routine care.

To better engage with workers and promote their overall wellness, Seidner recommends employers:

  • Offer benefits and resources that address the overall well-being of their workforce—encompassing physical health, mental health, as well as financial resilience.
  • Communicate more often to employees to remind them of the benefits and services that are available.
  • Lead by example by making your own appointments a priority.
  • Offer the flexibility employees need to make their appointments a priority.

The national omnibus online survey was conducted in the U.S. among approximately 2,000 adults aged 18+, including 1001 full-time and part-time employed respondents. The research was conducted Jan. 5-7, 2022. The margin of error is +/- 3 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The Hartford research tracks with what the U.S. Census Bureau has found since it started asking Americans about the mental health effects of the pandemic. This summer, it found that 22.3 million Americans had recently received counseling or therapy from mental-health professionals, according to data from this past summer. That was an increase of more than 5 million compared with late August last year.

The Census Bureau found there was an even bigger increase in the number saying they needed mental health help but didn’t get it.

In reporting the results of its 2021 survey last June, The Hartford concluded that employees’ mental health has become a serious issue in the workplace and employers are increasingly likely to recognize not only the costs but also how the stigma surrounding mental illness is an obstacle to treatment.