Workplace Stress Was Highest Among Younger Employees During COVID-19 Pandemic


Study finds early career workers were more likely to disengage during the pandemic, such as by showing a lack of interest or becoming cynical about work.

People in the early stages of their careers were more likely to be affected by workplace stress during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with more seasoned colleagues, according to a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour.

The study sought to understand how individuals at different stages of their lives and careers were affected by the pandemic and which resources had a positive impact on their wellbeing.

The study evaluated individuals at 5 different career stages—from early career to pre-retirement. The study authors noted differences in how these groups reacted to pandemic-related challenges of 2020 and how they adapted over time.

The team first surveyed participants in 30 different countries in April 2020 and found that people at the start of their careers were more likely to feel stressed.

"Work and personal lives underwent enormous disruption during the pandemic, with people working from home experiencing increased loneliness and a range of mental health issues,” said study researcher Christina Butler, associate professor from Kingston Business School, in a press release. “Under normal circumstances, the younger generations of workers need additional support from their managers and that was exacerbated during the pandemic, when we saw that relative newcomers to the workforce did not cope as well under the pressures of remote working.”

The study showed that early career workers were more likely to disengage during the pandemic, such as by showing a lack of interest or becoming cynical about work. Meanwhile, mid-career workers were found to be exhausted by the pandemic from managing other responsibilities, such as home schooling.

"Employers faced even more of a challenge than usual in how to engage young people and keep them supported at work so they didn't burn out. Disengagement is a clear marker of burnout and exhaustion is the other," Butler said in the press release.

Butler added that being over-tired and disengaged may contribute to a national trend in which highly skilled employees in the over 50 years of age were leaving their professions before retirement.

"This group is in danger of leaving work prematurely in what is sometimes referred to as the great resignation or engaging in what is known as quiet quitting," Butler said in a press release. "They have been reassessing their lives, particularly during the pandemic and, while they may not leave work completely, they may change career, move out of the city or work fewer hours, resulting in organizations losing a wealth of experience."

The study also examined factors that may rduce stress or exhaustion, such as giving employees higher levels of autonomy at work.

"During the pandemic there was often a lot of organizational support that people could find interfering and tiring, such as having a large number of online meetings, which sometimes took people away from their work and led to lots of screen time," Butler said in a press release. "When organizational support is positive it's seen as a resource that's helpful to manage work, but it might have felt like more of a demand placed on people during the pandemic."

Research project lead professor Audra Mockaitis noted that with the return of hybrid or in-person working, it is important to assess whether wellbeing improves for employees most affected.

"The pandemic, and organizations’ responses to it, affected working lives dramatically—each person has their own story of pandemic trauma," Mockaitis said in a press release. "Unfortunately, poor organizational response and support means that the effects of the pandemic will linger for longer for many. Organizations must do better with respect to their employees at all career stages."


Younger generation experienced most workplace stress during Covid-19 pandemic, Kingston University researcher finds. Kingston University London. November 14, 2022. Accessed November 16, 2022.

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