Compared to last year, market research professionals responding to a new Insights Association and Opinium survey experienced higher rates of poor mental health in the past 12 months, especially struggles with exhaustion and burnout. A 10% rise in reports of exhaustion/burnout was noted, along with an 8% increase in depression. Overall, 87% of respondents experienced poor mental health to some degree during the past year, a slight uptick from the 83% reporting this in our 2020 survey.

Likely reasons for the increased incidence levels: expanded workloads with no additional time off being taken. Nearly three-fifths (57%) feel they have too much to do to take time off for their mental health. In 2020, 48% cited this as a reason for not taking time off for mental health. Time taken off for mental health remained stagnant year over year.

“This should serve as a stark reminder that leaders in our industry must keep an eye on team workloads, actively manage the balance, and encourage time off when appropriate,” commented Melanie Courtright, CEO of the Insights Association. “We need to prevent situations from reaching the phase of exhaustion and burnout – quality of work suffers, and more importantly, quality of life.”  

The newly released report, “Mental Wellbeing in the U.S. Insights Sector 2021”, was conducted in June-July 2021 and included 258 responses from IA members and others working in research – spanning agency, in-house teams, suppliers, and freelance. It is the second year for this report in the U.S., which was modeled after the study, championed by the MRS with support from Opinium, in the UK, and conducted in Australia by The Research Society. Partnering with IA on the study is New York-based insight agency Opinium, which deployed its workplace mental wellbeing audit and compiled the report.

A candid assessment of mental health is essential as pandemic issues persist and social and political unrest weighs heavily on our minds. Through this study, IA and Opinium are determined to not only attain better understanding of the state of mental well-being in our industry and identify underlying issues, but also point out barriers that impede improvement.

“Concerningly, we’re seeing more insights professionals experiencing mental health issues than last year, but fewer are comfortable opening up about them. There is a need for leaders in the insights industry to model taking care of and talking about their mental health at work to break down the stigma,” said James Endersby, Opinium CEO. “We hope this report will inspire insights professionals across the US to take care of themselves and one another in these trying times.”

Among many notable data points in the study…

Deadlines and workload remain leading stressors; COVID issues ease markedly
What causes research professionals stress at work? More than half (53%) stated that impending deadlines/targets cause stress – making it the top source – compared to 48% last year. This is closely followed by a workload that is too much to handle (52% vs. 47% last year). One stark difference between this year and last is that pandemic-specific issues are no longer considered a top source of stress. In 2020, 45% felt the pandemic was a leading source of stress in their work life. This dropped significantly in 2021 to 22%.

Social and political issues are causing immense stress on employees
Eight in ten are stressed by political unrest (82%), over three-fourths due to race issues (77%) and the pandemic (73%), and two-thirds over economic downturn (64%). Nearly two-fifths (36%) feel very stressed from political unrest.

Many benefit from working from home, but struggle to draw boundaries
Respondents to the survey enjoy several benefits from working at home, top among them: Feeling more relaxed (72%), omission of commute improving mental health (70%), and better work-life balance (57%). These are offset by certain challenges, namely: Struggle to build in time to get outside during the day (60%), difficulty drawing boundaries between work and rest (55%) and working longer hours (49%).

Employers take Mental Wellness seriously; Fewer workers reveal problems
Across the insights industry more than nine in ten employers are proactive in well-being support and offer initiatives to support employee mental health (93%). This is up from last year (90%) and continues to track well above the workforce average within the U.S. (77%).

The percentage of respondents who told someone at work about their mental health dropped slightly from 58% last year to 55% this year. Two reasons cited for not opening up jumped significantly year over year – Concern it would jeopardize career: +14% and Didn’t know how to talk about it: +9%.

“This report pinpoints red flags for market research organizations and furthers the conversation about mental health,” Courtright added. “As an industry we cannot shy away from this topic. We’re making progress in diminishing the stigma that still marks mental wellness in the workplace and IA is committed to continuing this effort.”  

The full Mental Well-being in the U.S. Insights Sector Report 2021 may be accessed here.

On September 1, the Insights Association hosted a Virtual Town Hall focused on mental well-being. It included a deep dive into this report along with experts’ recommendations for businesses, managers, and employees. If you missed this session, you may access the recording here.