Tackling mental health in the workplace

What you need to know:

  • So, what is the current status of employees’ mental health? What is affecting them the most? And how are organisations doing with their efforts?

By Kathryn Mayer

There is no question that employee mental health has taken a dive in the last few years. Major event after major event has taken its toll on the wellbeing of workers. But there is a bright side to the crisis: It has put a spotlight on how employers think about employee wellbeing efforts and the programmes they put in place.

So, what is the current status of employees’ mental health? What is affecting them the most? And how are organisations doing with their efforts?

In recognition of World Mental Health Day on October 10, here are five things to know about the state of mental health in the workplace.

Employee mental health is still suffering – and it is causing employees to leave their jobs. Scores of research find that employees are continuing to suffer from mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, stress, burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder. That is due to a number of issues, ranging from the continuing pandemic to social concerns and financial uncertainty.

As the Great Resignation continues – in which scores of employees are quitting or looking to quit – many employees cite burnout and continued stress in their current job as reasons they are looking for other opportunities. About four in 10 employees say their work environment has hurt their mental health, according to the American Psychological Association.

Inflation is having an effect. Inflation, which rose 9.1 percent year-over-year in June and hit a 40-year high, is eating away at employees’ feelings of security and causing rising anxiety in the process. Soaring cost of living that has its grip on the nation is “a highly destabilising force,” says Paula Allen, a senior vice president of research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks, which conducts a monthly mental health index to gauge how employees are feeling.

Recent data from the digital mental health firm, which polled 5,000 US employees in May, finds that 20 percent of Americans say inflation is impacting their ability to meet basic needs. The index also found that people with unmet basic needs have a mental health score 16 percentage points lower than the national average.

Return-to-office policies

 After years of embracing remote work due to the pandemic, many employers are beginning to enforce in-person work again. But the policies are taking a toll on many employees’ states of mind, with many workers saying they are nervous about returning to offices for health reasons. Others say they prefer working from home due to a variety of other factors, from avoiding commuting to being better able to manage their personal and family lives. For these reasons and more, return to in-person work is causing nearly 30 percent of workforce stress and anxiety, according to Talkspace research. That is why it is important for employers to think strategically about their return-to-office policies if they choose to enforce them while also considering how they might affect employees’ mental health.

Workers want workplace mental health offerings, but those offerings are falling short. Despite employees citing the importance of benefits, including mental health support, some employers are falling short in their offerings, indicating many opportunities for improvement. A recent report from the Transamerica Institute and its Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, for instance, found that while the vast majority (71 percent) of workers say employee assistance programs are important, just 30 percent of employers offer them.

“In today’s intense labour market, a more robust benefits package could give employers a needed edge in the competition for talent,” says Catherine Collinson, the CEO and president of Transamerica Institute and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Employees want workplaces that prioritise support. The vast majority of workers – eight in 10 – are seeking workplaces that offer mental health support, according to a survey of 2,000 employees from the American Psychological Association. That means if employers want to keep their employees (and attract new talent), they should make sure they are offering comprehensive mental health help.

Many employers have stepped up offerings and support over the past two-plus years – such as employee assistance programmes or mental health apps. And although these efforts have been helpful, says Arthur Evans, Jr., APA’s chief executive officer, “it is important to recognise that many workers continue to struggle and need additional support.” 

Therefore, he says, “employers must maintain and, in some cases, expand their mental health service offerings.”