Stress and Anxiety Hindering Focus and Planning in Younger Employees

Your cognitive capacity determines how well you learn, remember, pay attention and solve problems. It impacts how quickly you can complete tasks and how many mistakes you make while doing so. Chronic stress and anxiety can result in cognitive decline over time. Watch to Learn More


Stress and anxiety can hinder the way we form and retrieve memories. It can make you more forgetful. For example, you may find yourself forgetting where you left your phone, or have a hard time recalling names.

Slight Improvement in Memory

In the past month, workers showed a 4% improvement in memory. However, overall, memory is still comparable to the level it was at in February.

Men Barely Edge Ahead

The recent uptick in memory is a sliver higher for men (5%) vs. women (4%).

Memory Improving in Younger Workers

While memory improved slightly since May across the 20-39 (4%) and 40-59 (5%) age groups, no change was seen in workers 60 or older.

Focus: Controlled Attention

Increased levels of stress not only cause us to become more irritable, but also impact our ability to focus. For example, it’s common for stress to cause people to make more mistakes.

Overall Focus Not Affected

Though workers are dealing with additional challenges, overall, there hasn’t been a notable increase in the number of errors they’re making.

Focus Remains Stable for Both Men and Women

Neither men nor women have shown a significant decline in focus since February.

Younger Workers Struggle to Remain Focused at Work

From May to June, workers between 20-39 were the only ones whose focus decreased. Focus went down 5%. Based on this finding, it isn’t surprising that younger workers are also struggling with planning and productivity.


Stress negatively affects your ability to plan and complete tasks on time. When you’re stressed, concentration declines and the amount of time it takes you to complete tasks increases.

Productivity Has Dropped Significantly

A high level of stress is proven to take a toll on productivity. Overall, chronically stressed U.S. workers are taking 8% longer to complete tasks. The decrease is driven primarily by struggling younger workers.

Men Beginning to Struggle with Productivity

From May to June, men’s productivity dropped 11% while women showed no change.

Productivity Worsens Among Youngest Workers

Workers 40 and older are completing tasks in the same amount of time as they had been in February, but productivity has slipped in younger workers. Workers age 20-39 are taking 25% longer to complete tasks.

Stress, Anxiety Affecting Cognition, Youngest Workers Particularly Impacted

Chronic stress and anxiety are known to diminish cognition. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that working adults are showing signs of cognitive difficulties. In fact, the longer U.S. workers continue to endure elevated levels of stress and anxiety, the greater the likelihood of decreased cognition.

With employees’ brains stuck in fight-or-flight mode due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the brain’s capacity for higher-level, intense reasoning, planning and innovating is compromised.

COVID-19 has impacted cognition for workers across all age groups. However, according to The Mental Health Index data, younger adults may be struggling more to adapt. The 20-39 age group of working adults was the only group in which focus declined from May to June. Also, productivity decreased by 25 percent among this age group since February, whereas productivity was not lower in those 40 and older.

Ultimately, when individuals are anxious and afraid, it becomes harder to complete complex tasks. While some workers are showing signs of adapting to sustained mental and emotional pressure brought on by the pandemic, the reality is that many employees are having difficulty concentrating, completing tasks in a timely manner, thinking and reasoning, and juggling responsibilities.

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