- According to new research, three quarters of full-time workers experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year—up from 59% in 2019.
- Mental health is not an individual issue, and organizations need to wake up to the reality that it is a company issue.
- The research shows “clear correlations to employers losing talent due to unsupported mental health challenges.” Here, we explore the actions, actions, resources, and accommodations companies can make to better support the mental health of employees.
This week (Sunday October 3rd to Saturday October 9th) marks mental health awareness week; Sunday October 10th marks World Mental Health Day. The occasion provides the perfect opportunity to evaluate and rethink mental health at work.
Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work report, in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow explores mental health, stigma, and work culture in U.S. workplaces. The study found that workers across age groups and seniority levels are facing mental health challenges for significant periods of time.
The Way We Work Isn’t Sustainable Anymore
The report argues that we cannot continue working like we have for decades.
Three quarters (76%) of full-time workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year—up from 59% in 2019. That’s a significant increase, and one that points to the fact that there is no “going back to normal”.
According to the report, the most common symptoms reported by workers are:
- Burnout (56%)
- Depression (46%)
- Anxiety (40%).
While the coronavirus pandemic has certainly played an important role in the deteriorating mental health of adults, the report found that workplace factors are also to blame.
“84% of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that negatively impacted their mental health in the past year—the most common being emotionally draining work (37%) and challenges with work-life balance (32%).”
“There isn’t, nor shouldn’t be, a ‘return’ to pre-pandemic normalcy with growing rates of mental health challenges, burnout, and a pervasive culture of overwork even before the pandemic. A healthier, sustainable culture of work is imperative for both the long-term mental health of employees and a company’s ability to navigate future uncertainty.”
The report found that not only are more workers experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, but also that workers are experiencing these symptoms for longer periods of time.
80% of workers reported their symptoms cumulatively lasting a month or more, with 36% reporting symptoms lasting five months to an entire year.
Companies Need to Shift Their View of Mental Health
The reality is that mental health is not an individual issue, and organizations need to wake up to the reality that it is a company issue.
“We have created a narrative around mental health as an individual issue to solve for using benefits and perks. In reality, mental health is ingrained into the way an organization operates and how its people are valued. But we forget that the way we think, feel, and are treated drives how we navigate the world around us —from how an individual engages in their work, to how a manager speaks with their team, to how a company prioritizes (or not) the wellbeing of its people.”
So, what are employers to do?
Organizations need to start supporting workers, especially considering the dialogue around the “great resignation”.
According to Mind Share Partners, “there are clear correlations to employers losing talent due to unsupported mental health challenges.”
- Half (50%) of respondents have left previous roles at a company due, at least in part, to mental health reasons.
- This is up from a third (34%) in 2019, a 47% increase or 16%-point difference.
- The above number grows to 81% for Gen Z and 68% for Millennial respondents.
Workers are more willing than ever to leave companies who fail to support them. However, lack of support is not only impacting talent retention, but also productivity levels.
The study found that workers who feel supported tend to be more engaged, more productive, and happier at work.
Those who feel supported tend to be:
- Less likely to experience mental health symptoms. Those who felt supported amidst the pandemic were 45% less likely to experience mental health symptoms for 5 – 12 months, compared to those who did not.
- Less likely to underperform and miss work. Those who felt supported amidst their company’s return to office plans reported less than half the number of days they underperformed in the past year due to their mental health (10 days vs. 25 days).
- More likely to feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work. Those who felt supported amidst the racial injustices were roughly 2x more likely to feel comfortable talking about their mental health to their colleagues, manager, and HR.
- More satisfied with their job and more likely to stay. Those who felt supported amidst the pandemic were 2.4x more likely to be satisfied with their job and 2x more likely to intend to stay at their company for 2+ yrs.
- More likely to have positive views of their company and its leaders. Those who felt supported by their employer overall with their mental health at work were:
- 5.6x as likely to trust their company.
- 3.5x as likely to be proud to work at their company.
- 3.7x as likely to say that their leaders are advocates for mental health
- 3.1x as likely to say that their manager is equipped to support them with their mental health.
Kelly Greenwood, Founder & CEO of Mind Share Partners, said:
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“The stakes have been raised. Companies must move from viewing mental health as an individual’s responsibility to a collective priority. The future of workplace mental health demands culture change. Everyone within an organization plays a unique role in creating a mentally healthy workplace, with leadership paving the way. We can’t afford to go back to ‘business as usual’. Now is the time to be intentional and imagine what work could be — with more vulnerability, compassion, and sustainable ways of working.”
Companies Need to Invest in Culture Change to Improve the Mental Helth of Workers
According to the report, “the most common corporate strategies we often see for employee mental health tend to be Band-Aid solutions, focusing on coping mechanisms and the temporary alleviation of symptoms, such as mental health days.”
While these are a decent first step, workers need more to truly feel supported. Organizations need to work on normalizing mental health conversations and supporting employees on a day-to-day basis.
The report found that while employees are talking about mental health more, their comfort levels and experience of these conversations are still mixed.
- Two-thirds (65%) of study respondents reported having talked about their mental health to someone at work in the past year—a 63% increase from 40% in 2019.
- 41% of study respondents felt comfortable talking to their colleagues about their own mental health—a 46% increase from 2019 (28%)
- 40% felt comfortable talking to managers—a 38% increase from 2019 (29%)
- and 37% to HR—a 48% increase from 2019 (25%).
- Only 49% of respondents described their experience of talking about mental health at work as positive or that they received a positive or supportive response—comparable to rates in 2019 (48%).
“The past year has highlighted the impact mental health has had on so many of our colleagues and employees,” said Qualtrics Chief People Officer Julia Anas. “Whether employees need someone to talk to, flexibility to take care of themselves, their families and friends, or recognition for their success, it’s imperative that company leaders listen and understand and lead with empathy in helping employees find solutions. Each individual is unique, so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but it starts with listening, followed by taking action.”
Which Actions Can Companies Take?
These are some actions, resources, and accommodations companies can make to better support the mental health of employees.
- Mental health training
- One-on-one time with managers
- Health insurance that covers mental health
- Clear information about where employees can go ask for mental health support
- Paid time off
- More vacation time
- Flexible hours
- Support with workload
- Extended and frequent breaks from break
- Adjustments to how managers communicate and how often
- Time to schedule therapy appointments.
Below is a list of the most desired resources for mental health at work:
- An open culture about mental health at work
- On-site therapist
- Mental health apps
- Mindfulness training
- Employee resource group.