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The State Of Mental Health At Work Isn’t Good, New Studies Show

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The State Of Mental Health At Work Isn’t Good, New Studies Show

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New studies show that mental health and well-being at work continue to decline in 2023. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five Americans (57.8 million in 2021) were living with some type of mental illness, ranging from mild to moderate to severe anxiety and depression. That number has increased as a result of the pandemic and the ensuing turbulence in the workplace along with a dwindling economy. Anxiety is the highest reported mental health disorder in the U.S. with 42.5 million Americans suffering from this illness. How are these mental health problems manifesting in the workplace and what are businesses doing about them?

The Wellness Barometer Survey

BrightPlan released its third annual Wellness Barometer Survey on the state of workforce well-being. The study—including 1,400 U.S. knowledge workers and a mix of C-Suite, HR leaders and employees—revealed that financial stress has skyrocketed amid economic uncertainty, affecting employee well-being and organizational success. Key findings include the following:

  • 76% of the C-suite and HR leaders report financial stress.
  • 92% of employees are stressed about their finances, and it’s costing employers nearly $200 billion annually.
  • 64% say their financial stress has impacted their relationships.
  • A majority of those dealing with financial stress say it has worsened their mental (72%) and physical (60%) health.
  • 64% say financial stress has impacted their social well-being—relationships with friends and family.
  • 72% say they couldn’t afford opportunities like weddings and birthdays or invitations to get drinks or food.
  • Only 63% of workers trust HR and upper management (down from 83% in 2022) and only 61% believe leaders at their company are empathetic.
  • 81% of respondents say their company is doing a good job with DE&I, but feelings of trust, safety and belonging are dwindling.
  • 75% of employees are dissatisfied with the financial benefits available to them, and many aren’t using them.
  • Uncertain economic conditions are a top source of financial stress, including high inflation (96%), a potential recession (93%), rising interest rates (90%) and market volatility (89%).

These concerns are reflected in a notable shift in how leaders rank their biggest people-related challenges this year. Supporting the holistic well-being of employees emerged as a top challenge, along with career growth and development (both 53%). This is in stark contrast to the challenges facing leaders a year ago when attracting and retaining talent and engaging employees topped the list.

In addition to impacting employees’ health, financial stress is negatively affecting engagement (50%) and productivity (48%) at work. Respondents say they lose an average of one day of work per week due to financial stress, which potentially costs U.S. employers $200 billion annually. The C-suite and HR leaders are significantly more likely than employees to say financial stress has worsened their productivity at work, with C-suite reporting an average loss of 16.8 hours per week and HR leaders reporting 12.4 hours per week.

“Employers need to recognize that when workers are stressed about their finances, this carries over into all aspects of their well-being, which ultimately affects their performance and engagement at work,” insists Marthin De Beer, founder and CEO at BrightPlan. Dan Schawbel, managing partner, Workplace Intelligence, points out that “Employers need to upgrade the quality of these benefits, and they also need to ensure people know what’s available to them. For most of the financial benefits we asked about, we found that around one out of four employees have no idea if their company even offers them.”

The ResumeLab Survey

ResumeLab surveyed 1,000 employees to examine all things mental health at work. Their findings included:

  • Two-thirds of respondents have experienced work-induced mental health problems in the past two years.
  • 68% have taken time off work because of a mental health condition.
  • 59% believe their mental health hindered career advancement.
  • 68% worry that disclosing a mental health condition would harm their professional reputation.
  • 73% believe a low salary contributes to mental health problems.
  • 58% feel mentally or emotionally unsafe in the workplace.
  • One-third of respondents agree that the opportunity to take mental health days would positively change their well-being.

Addressing Workplace Mental Health Challenges

There is no magical pill or quick fix to mental health, which is often swept under the rug or ignored altogether. Demanding deadlines, toxic environments and constant pressure can wear employees down, leaving them feeling depleted and drained. May is Mental Health Awareness, and Cameron Yarbrough, co-founder and CEO of Torch, believes every month should be a stress reducing awareness month. “No wonder a February 2023 survey of 10,243 global workers by think-tank Future Forum reported 42% of U.S. workers say they feel burnout,” he told me in an email. “On the one hand, we say as a society that we are aware of the dangers of stress, yet as employers, we seem to be okay about rising feelings of a very dangerous mental condition—burnout.” To face this crisis, Yarbrough suggests three simple steps company leaders can take to minimize the chance of stress becoming acute in their organization.

  1. Try Meditation. “I was fortunate enough to go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat in northern California which forced me to deal with my anxiety head-on but also allowed me to be alone with my thoughts for an extended period of time—which was hard but ultimately helped me grow. If you’re concerned about workplace stress, why not try one of the many great mindfulness apps or courses with your team?”
  2. Light exercise helps. “Encouraging lunchtime walking, jogging or in-office yoga may be all you need to spark a more energetic team lifestyle, which will pay off both for office physical and mental stress level reduction.”
  3. Take a break! “On paper a company will often have a policy of unlimited vacation time that sounds amazing, yet in practice, its people take no time off at all. Employees think it’s a trap—that the real message is to get ahead in business you have to work 80 to 100 hours a week with no holidays at all . . . The only way I will take vacation is to plan it six months in advance so that I’m almost dissociated from it by the time it comes around, and my schedule is blocked. And when I come back I’ll be very refreshed and more creative, and I get to bring that resourcing to work. Do the same in your workplace and inculcate a culture where everyone sees this is how we all need to work.”

Yarbrough insists that these three self-care strategies also helps the company’s profit margin and underscores the importance of psychological safety. “As humans, in order to be truly productive and creative, we have to feel psychologically safe,” he points out. “Psychological safety has to be engendered to create a workplace environment where your employees feel free of the danger of burnout and will regularly use the parts of their brain that are the most creative and most innovative. Picasso didn’t feel he could sit down to paint his next masterpiece when he was being hassled about the rent; why are you and your team going to be any different?”

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