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Concerns over wellbeing rising among STEM professionals

An increasing sense of pressure is causing specialists to become more worried about their wellbeing over the past 12 months.


of STEM professionals are now more worried about their wellbeing compared to last year


of respondents expect to be a lot more worried about their wellbeing in the next 12 months

Decreased wellbeing increases the risk of being out of work e.g., sick leave or unemployment, leaving individuals unable to provide for themselves increasing stress. For businesses, this could impact long-term effectiveness with reduced headcount and access to highly sought-after STEM skills. But are employers doing enough to support their employees’ wellbeing?

‘How the STEM World Evolves’ finds that STEM professionals are unhappy with their companies’ current motivations, feeling neglected and unsupported. For example, one German professional said:

“Unfortunately my employer is only interested in his personal gain, no matter how the employees are doing with it and how much work they do.”

Businesses must listen to employees’ current and future concerns over wellbeing to understand their personal and professionals needs to curate a happy, healthier and more engaged workforce.

Unmet basic safety needs are impacting wellbeing

Salary and rates are the most important influence on general wellbeing among STEM professionals globally. Given the current economic climate, this is unsurprising with one UK permanent employee explaining

"[My wellbeing is suffering] because of the inflation rates now".

Another professional in Japan says:

"Workload increased. Increased responsibility. On the other hand, salaries have not risen so much and there is no sense of security for the future"

- a sentiment echoed in the US with an employee stating,

"Expenses are increasing but pay is not".

Personal and financial security as well as employment are basic safety needs and fundamental to our sense of wellbeing, as depicted in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a widely recognised and robust psychological framework of human needs and motivations.

Following salary and rates, STEM professionals state purpose at work influences their wellbeing the most, followed closely by feeling proud of the work you do (Figure 1). More information about the influence that purpose has on STEM professionals and their careers can be found in our ‘Purpose is the key driver in STEM professionals’ careers’ section.

Can the office become a future place of wellbeing?

Employer/client flexible working options is the fourth most important influence on wellbeing, which is discussed in our ’STEM professionals want more from their roles than employers are offering’ section.

Whilst only 28% of STEM professionals say they go into the office for their mental wellbeing, having the autonomy to choose when this happens is important to one’s wellbeing. This is highlighted when looking at the experience and expectations of contractors' wellbeing versus permanent employees (Figure 2). Contractors enjoy a high level of flexibility and independence compared to permanent employees, which influences their wellbeing. This includes being free to work whenever and wherever they want while being financially self-reliant.

Although permanent employment brings greater job security, the urge for freedom and flexibility is a strong driver for STEM professionals, with ‘continuing to work flexibility’ ranked as the top challenge likely to impact STEM professionals’ careers in 2023. One employee in the UK supports this in saying:

"There is going to be much more work hours and...less flexibility with things."

Many employers have used the move to work from home as an opportunity to reduce office space. But a more inclusive workforce that focuses on wellbeing is one that offers a comfortable and collaborative work environment, and most importantly offers employees the choice in where and when they work

Headshot of Timo Lehne - CEO, SThree
"The office as a working space faces a lot of critics these days, but it can foster cooperation, promote learning and nurture strong culture. Instead of seeing it as a place to work, we should see it as a future place for collaboration." Timo Lehne, CEO, SThree

Combatting age discrimination in the workplace would improve employee wellbeing

‘How the STEM World Evolves’ finds that age plays a significant role in health and wellbeing. STEM professionals approaching their 50s have become the most worried about their wellbeing over the last 12 months compared to those over 50 and younger candidates (Figure 3).

Job security is called into question approaching later life. Employers shy away from hiring the over-50s, according to a recent report from the Chartered Management Institute, despite age discrimination being illegal in many countries.

The report finds:

  • 74% of managers are open to hiring employees between the ages of 18 and 34
  • 42% of managers are open to hiring employees aged between 50 and 64
  • 30% were open to hiring those close to state retirement age or older
  • 20% said their organisation was not open to the idea of hiring those over 65 at all

Older professionals are aware of this situation, with one Japan-based permanent employee said:

"As I approach the 4th corner of my life after my 60th birthday, I believe that the only way to survive in the future is to become a utility player by improving my skills, reskilling, learning broad and shallow duties, and becoming a utility player."

Most countries are already experiencing STEM skills shortages, and this is expected to become exacerbated by the global megatrend of an ageing population, as explored in our 'Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce' section. Thus, tapping into the skills and expertise of older workers and fighting against age discrimination is crucial for companies, to society and the individuals themselves.

Comparatively, when looking ahead over the next 12 months, younger professionals are expecting to be a lot more worried about their wellbeing. This might be due to the current economic landscape which is seeing global recessions alongside the rapid rise of AI and automation, creating job fear in young professionals more than any other demographic. Find out more in our ‘Over a third of STEM professionals are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation' section.

A symbiotic relationship: work-life balance and wellbeing

Achieving work-life balance involves time-based boundaries to ensure needs in both domains are met, such as self-care. Companies can contribute to work-life balance by offering flexible work arrangements, encouraging regular breaks, and promoting a supportive workplace culture that values their employees’ holistic wellbeing. Both factors are aligned and impact each other, and work-life balance efforts are irrelevant without a focus on general wellbeing.  

How the STEM World Evolves’ asked respondents how happy they feel about both wellbeing and work-life balance. Those aged over 40 are slightly happier with their work-life balance than younger workers, despite having become more worried about their wellbeing over the last 12 months. The same trend is found for wellbeing: over 40s have become more worried about their wellbeing but at the same time are slightly happier with it than those under 29 (Figure 4).

This mismatch between happier but more worried and vice-versa shows the differences in mentality of certain age groups and how optimistic/pessimistic they are in their approach to life. It also demonstrates where priorities lie and highlights generational difference is a key factor that influence wellbeing.

Whereas older people care a lot more about losing their current job and therefore are more worried, younger people are less worried because they have just started their career with many opportunities lying ahead of them. Older people can be satisfied with their wellbeing and work-life balance as they have already been successful in their career, whereas younger people often do not (yet) have the money to live the life they dream of. Further thoughts on the generational differences for STEM professionals can be found in our ‘Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce’ section.

Employers are trying new initiatives – but is it enough?

67% of STEM professionals want to work for an employer or client who is offering mental health support (Figure 5). It also means a third of respondents don’t consider mental health support important. This could indicate how little is known about good mental health or the innovative wellbeing initiatives that companies are able to introduce. Businesses need to think carefully about how they communicate both the benefits of, and accessibility to, mental health support.

‘Workforce burnout / increasing work related stress’ is ranked the top challenge likely to affect careers, with 15% of STEM professionals worried about it. Therefore, companies must understand causes of burnout to mitigate chronic stress on their workforce before they think about additional ‘softer’ wellbeing benefits.

As Martin Dewhurst, senior partner and co-leader of the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI), says:

"If core factors in the workplace are not right, you can’t yoga your way to creating employee health."

STEM professionals feel that they are being listened to, but fewer think their employer or client has introduced new health and wellbeing initiatives (Figure 6). Businesses must understand the needs of their workforce and consider how to curate a better environment for all, because our data outlines the importance of wellbeing should not be underestimated.


‘How the STEM World Evolves’ highlights the importance that STEM professionals place on wellbeing in today’s working world. The satisfaction of employees depends strongly on their individual work and life situation. To attract and retain talent, employers must educate their workforces around the value and importance of physical and mental health and deliver initiatives to support wellbeing. Concerns and problems are individual in nature, so the support employers offer must be considered in the same way. There is no standard one-size-fits-all solution, but taking a first step is always better than inaction.

Dive deeper into How the STEM World Evolves

Uncover how the STEM world is changing in our new study How the STEM World Evolves! Discover:

  • How important security is to STEM professionals 
  • What STEM professionals want from their role
  • How purpose is influencing careers
  • How attitudes to wellbeing are evolving
  • What impact the ageing population will have on employees
  • Whether attitudes to AI and Automation are changing
Learn more

Discover the other sections in our study

STEM professionals value career security over a pay rise

STEM professionals value career security over a pay rise

In today’s economic climate, labour market shifts and megatrends are revolutionising the working world and influencing professionals' needs.

STEM professionals want more from their roles than employers are offering

STEM professionals want more from their roles than employers are offering

Apart from attractive salary rates and benefits, candidates continue to want flexibility. But how that looks has changed.

Purpose is the key driver in STEM professionals’ careers

Purpose is the key driver in STEM professionals’ careers

Purpose at work has become more important, and intrinsic personal purpose far outweighs organisational extrinsic purpose.

Over a third of STEM professionals are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation

Over a third of STEM professionals are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation

How can businesses help STEM professionals create a role-relevant partnership with AI, rather than be automated out of a job?

Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce

Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce

A generational phenomenon, underpinned by increased life expectancy and decreasing birth rates, is sweeping across global markets.

Summary of findings

Summary of findings

Dive into the attitudes and expectations of STEM professionals as they try and make sense of our rapidly changing working environment.

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