Mental health is the most personal of challenges. How can employers support it in the workplace?
The past couple of years have been brutal on the collective health of society. We’ve shared in the grief of loss – not only of lives, but life as we knew it: the normalcy and routine and familiarity. It’s all been taxing, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
In the middle of all of this is that mental health, once heavily stigmatized and a no-go topic, is growing in the everyday zeitgeist. Taking a “mental health day” has evolved from a glib tongue-in-cheek comment to a respected and even supported option in many workplaces. To say “I’m not OK today” is more OK today than it was in the past.
This new reality isn’t lost on employers, with a January 2022 survey showing that it’s a top priority for businesses this year. That same study, however, finds that half of the respondents have yet to establish a mental health strategy in their company.
“Mental health in the workplace is becoming one of the most important topics in the business world today.”
You need your people to be healthy if you want to keep your business engine running smoothly. We’re well aware of this at Workable, and we want to help you – the employer – gain better insight into the mental health conversation so you can build your talent attraction strategy and strengthen the morale and wellness of your employees.
So, we surveyed more than 1,300 people to understand what mental health in the workplace looks like and what it means to them. And we now have plenty of data to share with you.
Major takeaways include the following:
Mental health has always been around for many – the pandemic simply added fuel to the call for more support in the workplace.
The mental health experience – and subsequent needs – depends on the individual. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.
It’s not about opening up the conversation, even though that’s important. It’s more about establishing a safe zone for your employees to thrive.
Be proactive, inclusive and all-encompassing in your workplace mental health strategy. Don’t assume that your employees have everything they need.
We hope you find our survey results to be useful and interesting to you both professionally and personally. Any thoughts or questions, please feel free to share them with us via Twitter, LinkedIn, or by direct email.
Lead author: Keith MacKenzie
Data analysis: Dimosthenis Giannigiotis
Design: Athanasia Lykoudi, Maria Gregoriou
“We link to our Workable-hosted careers page when we’re advertising jobs on our social media accounts. This reduces the steps it takes to apply for jobs. And it means our candidate experience is boosted from the outset."
Head of People and Culture, Moodle
When you support the mental wellness of your employees, that can be a powerful employee value proposition for your company when candidates are at a premium. Workable helps you promote attractive mental health perks and benefits to potential employees with an easy-to-setup, content-rich careers page and branded campaigns to your target audience where they live.
— The overall scope
— The overall sentiment
— What we’ve learned here
— Let’s talk about mental health – or not
— Workplace stressors
— What we’ve learned here
— Where employers are at
— Initiation and action
— The challenges and hurdles
— Clarity and communication
— What we’ve learned here
To kick things off, we take a look at the landscape of workplace mental health as it is right now – in other words, a snapshot of the current scene. This gives us better insight into the deeper dataset. To do this, we asked questions to determine the current state of mental health, whether it’s changing for the better or for the worse, and how people feel about that.
Right away, we’ve determined that mental health is not getting worse for many – and more so, is not a recent phenomenon. A strong majority of respondents – 65% in total – say they have had mental health challenges that impacted their work, but those challenges already existed before 2020.
An additional 27.6% say the same in terms of having mental health challenges, with the only difference being that those challenges started during or after 2020. This tells us that, as debilitating as the last two years have been on our collective health, this period is not as fertile of a time for mental health challenges as pre-pandemic.
Nevertheless, a total of 92.6% of our 1,303 survey respondents have or have had mental health challenges which impacted their work. Clearly, mental wellness at work is an area of major concern in our society.
Now, is it getting worse or better? Turns out that nearly half (45.6%) of all our respondents say they’ve had challenges but it’s actually getting better. That’s a much higher number than the 21.8% who say they have (or have had) challenges and it’s getting worse.
Now, let’s understand what the trend of mental health conversations at work looks like according to our respondents – and how they’re feeling about that.
We’ll keep it succinct: two out of five respondents (40.1%) say the overall trend of the conversation is getting better – compared with 28.4% who say the opposite.
One might suggest that this is partly about more open communication and interest in mental wellness in the workplace. Google Trends verifies that; there’s a clear uptick in searches for “mental health in the workplace” starting in 2017 with regular growth in that search trend since then.
And nearly half (46.6%) are feeling more positive about that trend, compared with just 29.5% who feel more negative about it.
So, we can call this progress in terms of opening up the conversation, and there are generally more good feelings than bad feelings about that.
That’s great. But (and there’s always a but):
Different people have different experiences at different workplaces – and that’s no different when it comes to mental health.
First, let’s look at industries. What stands out is that those working in IT / Technology / SaaS (54.3%) and Consulting / Business Services (53.4%) lead the way in terms of “it’s getting better”. Those are industries that surged during pandemic times – perhaps leading to healthier business, and consequently more optimistic sentiments in those companies.
The opposite held true for the Travel and Hospitality sectors, which led in terms of having mental health challenges impacting their work and for that experience to be getting worse (35.1% and 34.1% respectively). Those two sectors, of course, have been disproportionately impacted by the events of the last two years – with both taking a major hit in terms of job retention and the bottom line.
And those that have no challenges whatsoever? Again, the leaders in this area are those working in IT / Technology / SaaS (12.9%), followed by Healthcare (10.3%) and Retail (10.2%) in terms of not having mental health challenges.
We found differences across gender identities as well. The standouts are that those identifying as male are more likely to say the overall trend of mental health conversations at work is getting better (43.2% vs. 37.9%), whereas those identifying as female are more likely to say it’s largely unchanged from before (33.9% vs. 29.1%).
Now, let’s talk about minorities. An important demographic question we asked in our survey was: “Do you identify as a member of a minority group (be it race, ethnicity, language, religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, gender, or another characteristic)?” Because of the complexity of the ‘minority’ conversation, we wanted to instead establish whether someone identified as a minority, which would shed light on how they perceive their status in society.
There, of course, will be cases where someone could be classified as a minority but doesn’t identify as one, and vice-versa. So, the way they answer this question gives nuanced insight into the rest of the dataset.
And the differences in answers between those identifying and not identifying as a minority are an eye-opener.
For starters, let’s go back to that same question above. We found that those who don’t identify as a minority are considerably more likely to say they do not have mental health challenges that impacted their work (9.3% vs. 5.3%).
Meanwhile, those identifying as minorities are more likely to say they had mental health challenges predating 2020 that impacted their work (68.4% vs. 61.8%).
As for the trend of mental health conversations in their workplace, a full third of minorities (33.5%) say that’s getting worse for them, compared with just over one in five non-minorities (22.9%).
Non-minorities are more likely to say the overall trend has not really changed from before (35.8% vs. 28%).
And what about the feeling around that trend? Again, minorities are feeling more negative about it (33% vs. 25.8%), while the sentiment of non-minorities is more likely to be unchanged than to be negative (27.5% unchanged, 25.8% negative).
It’s pretty clear – the ‘minority’ experience differs hugely from the ‘non-minority’ experience.
What does this tell us? First off, mental health challenges exist, and are being felt by nearly everyone regardless of the pandemic.
But it’s getting better, right? Sure. Are people talking about it more? Yes, they are, and there are positive feelings about that.
Still, the differences in minority/non-minority answers deserves attention. Someone who considers themselves to be a minority would likely consider themselves not part of the majority status quo – so this requires a conversation around inclusion. We’ve defined “inclusion” in a past report:
“[Inclusion is] the sense of belonging, value, support, and respect that one feels in society and in a company – and that’s largely impacted by individual behavior and collective company culture.”
And right now, the difference in experiences related to mental health suggests there isn’t a fully inclusive environment in many workplaces. The more pessimistic outlook of those identifying as a minority tells us that we collectively have a lot of work to do in that area and that the “status quo” perspective is not sufficient.
Mental health is an intensely personal and private issue for many. It’s not just a social stigma – it’s also a matter of personal importance and in many cases, is one’s own private business. So the first step we’ll take here is to understand the level of comfort that people have in terms of addressing the topic at work.
First off, we find that less than three in 10 respondents (29%) feel they can be fully open in talking about mental health at work. And nearly half say it really depends on the situation or the person they’re talking with, with 45.4% choosing that as the level of comfort that they have in this regard.
And a full quarter (25.6%) are not comfortable at all talking about it.
Which begs the question: how do our respondents feel about communicating their own mental health concerns and challenges? Let’s take a look at the factors that prevent them from doing so.
We found that nearly two out of every five respondents (39.4%) say that mental health is generally not discussed and they don’t want to be the first to bring it up. Likewise, a little more than a third (35.2%) don’t communicate it because of a fear of stigmatization and discrimination.
Finally – 35.9% of respondents say there’s no clear support or messaging about it in their company.
“I think it'd be important for companies to mention clearly that they support individuals with mental health issues and encourage them to speak about it. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 and OCD since 2017 and I still can't bring myself to talk about it with my colleagues out of fear of being stigmatized.”
It’s clear – mental health isn’t the easiest topic for many. One may come down ill with a stomach flu and they’ll easily be able to talk about those struggles on their first day back at work – but when it comes to mental wellness, there’s an intimidating diffraction in the air that discourages a conversation from taking place; more so when the climate isn’t an accommodating one.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t brought up at all. Most of us have someone we can confide in. It’s worth looking at who people feel communicating their challenges with.
When we asked that of our respondents, we found that 34.8% say they can openly communicate mental health concerns and challenges with their colleagues. But ‘colleagues’ is, of course, a vague term – so let’s look at the other answers. Nearly a third (31.8%) said they can talk with their direct manager (i.e. in a 1-1 meeting), while 29.2% feel comfortable talking to HR and 28.3% feel OK discussing their concerns with upper management.
But what about talking with one’s own direct reports? It’s not nearly as high – just one in five (20.1%).
“Basically, the issue of mental health concern is like a taboo here. So to speak, they are not willing to share their concern over the fear of judgment from others. So they will only share it with the colleague that is close to them.”
Now, let’s look at another form of communication. When we asked respondents if they found their company’s mental health resources and services were sufficient enough for their needs, the most popular answer was “Somewhat, but I do have to ask for it” (36.5%). Considering the minimal level of comfort that many individuals have about raising mental health concerns and challenges with those they don’t necessarily know all that well, making it such that they have to ask for support adds even more discomfort.
Which makes one wonder – would employees feel better (and safer) talking about their concerns and challenges if their employer preemptively opened up a company-wide dialogue on mental health? And opened up channels for private dialogue, and provided a healthy range of services and support? Perhaps. And we’ll touch on that a little later in the next chapter.
Again, not everyone is cut from the same fabric. It’s worth looking at how different groups like to communicate (or don’t like to communicate).
First off, we found that those identifying as male do not feel as comfortable as others when talking about mental health at work.
For instance, 28.9% of males say they don’t feel comfortable about it at all, compared with 23.1% of females – a difference of 5.8 percentage points.
Perhaps men are raised to be more closed off about their feelings and emotions compared with women. Even though it’s not nearly as rigid as before, and even though it’s a potential generalization, the evidence here still points to that element of our culture.
That adds nuance to our next insight: men are also more likely to say their company’s services are somewhat sufficient, but they have to ask for it (38.4% vs. 34.7%).
Meanwhile, like those identifying as male, those identifying as minorities (30.4%) also are overwhelmingly more likely than non-minorities (20.7%) to say they are not comfortable at all talking about the topic at work.
Minorities are also more likely to say they have to ask for it than non-minorities – 40.5% compared with 32.3%
When asked about who they feel they can talk openly with on the topic, minorities are far more likely than non-minorities (33.8% vs. 23.8% – a full 10-point difference) to say they can go to Human Resources to address mental health concerns and challenges.
On the flip side, those who don’t identify as a minority are much more likely than minorities (39% vs. 30.7%) to say they can openly talk with their colleagues. And the difference in percentage between “HR” and “My colleagues” for those who don’t identify as a minority is an astounding 15.2 percentage points in favor of colleagues.
One potential explanation for all of this is that minorities may regularly find themselves in a situation more unique to them than is common to everyone – and therefore, minorities may not have the same level of like-minded peers at work with whom they can discuss mental health.
Also, human resources traditionally offers a private channel for employees to address concerns, grievances, and other elements impacting them at work; in some cases, HR might be the only ‘safe space’ at work for many minorities when raising mental health challenges.
And the other side of that coin is that non-minorities feel much more comfortable talking about this sensitive topic with anyone, simply because they are part of the overall status quo.
Now that we’ve established the comfort level – or lack of thereof – we now want to understand the potential stressors in the workplace that might lead to or exacerbate mental health challenges.
We pulled together a list of common stressors from extensive research and asked respondents to tell us whether or not they struggled with those in the workplace. We found that the predominant workplace stressor was “lack of work-life balance”, with 78.2% saying they struggle with it, followed closely by increased workload (77.8%) and financial insecurity (76.3%).
And contrary to what we expected considering the prevalence of these topics right now, we found that inappropriate behavior / discrimination (64.9%) and the lack of real DEI (66.8%) are the least common workplace stressors for our audience. Even then, those are still very high percentages.
Now, let’s dig deeper. We found that 39.2% of those who say they’re struggling with lack of social interaction / loneliness – while not a top struggle overall – say that this stressor is getting better for them. And likewise, four out of 10 (39.1%) who struggle with work-life balance say it’s getting better, while 38.1% of those who say they’re struggling with lack of training / development but it’s getting better.
On the flip side, another 30.5% of those struggling with work-life balance say it’s actually getting worse right now. In second place by a hair is “fear of job loss and job uncertainty”, with 30.4% saying that’s getting worse.
The narrative is still strongly in favor of it “getting better” for many of our respondents.
But, again, there are differences when we dig into the demographic segments.
When we compared responses from those identifying as female with those identifying as male, we found more insights. For instance, 24.3% of females say they’re struggling more now with financial insecurity compared with 19.6% of males. Likewise, 22.7% of females say that their struggle with the fear of job loss and job uncertainty is also getting worse, compared with 18.5% of males.
On the flip side, 26.4% of males say they’re unaffected by struggles related to financial insecurity, compared with 22.2% of females.
We are well aware of the gender pay gap that exists in many societies, along with the differences in career opportunities be it perceived or real. Also, in a past survey, we identified a strong link between work opportunities and the prioritization of family. In short, the onus often falls on women to meet home priorities – and as a result, their careers take a back seat. The resultant stress on women is very evident in our dataset.
“Mental health is something I regard should be of high priority in our working spaces. Balancing work life and home is the main problem currently. Women in particular are mostly affected as they are often expected to work hard at home compared to their partners.”
We also found that minorities struggle far more with financial insecurity than non-minorities. And more than one-third of minorities who struggle with it say it’s getting worse rather than better (34% vs. 32.5%).
The opposite holds true for those who don’t identify as a minority – just 26% of those struggling with financial insecurity say it’s getting worse, compared with 36.3% of those saying it’s getting better. That’s a convincing difference of 10.3 percentage points.
We see an even starker discrepancy in the “lack of training / development” stressor, with 26.1% of minorities who struggle with it saying it’s getting worse and 32.7% saying it’s getting better – compared with 22.5% and 43.9% for non-minorities who struggle with the same thing. So, the future in terms of career growth certainly seems brighter for non-minorities.
Discrimination is, of course, also a factor. Let’s keep this one simple: just 29% of minorities say they are unaffected by this workplace stressor, compared with 41.1% of non-minorities.
So, it looks like the workplace often poses a challenging environment for those identifying as females and as minorities. This begs the question: is it at least a supportive workplace? Let’s take a look.
Before looking at the actual policies and resources offered by companies – which we explore in depth in the next chapter – let’s look at how our respondents seek out mental health support and services.
In short – we found that 43.3% used some of their company’s mental health services, while 30.1% procured their own professional help and services.
Just over one quarter (26.6%) of respondents did not procure any professional help or support in relation to mental health. It’s worth noting that this number is much higher than the number of respondents who say they haven’t had any mental health challenges whatsoever (7.4%, as noted in Chapter 1).
“We ran workshops on well-being and not many attended, but the ones who did felt they needed such actions. so it’s a work in progress and employee buy-in and being open to such assistance and direction are key.”
Again, when we dig into the demographics, the differences really stand out. Let’s look at that.
For instance, those identifying as male are far more likely than those identifying as female to use their company’s mental health services (49.5% vs. 38.5%) – a percentage point differential of 11.
Meanwhile, females are more likely to seek help outside of what their company has to offer, with 33.5% procuring their own services compared with 24.3% of males.
Does this suggest that – at the risk of generalization – company policies are “built and designed by men” and therefore are sufficient “for men”, and not necessarily inclusive of women-specific mental health concerns? That’s worth thinking about. Keep that in mind as we go on.
When we look at the differences in minority vs. non-minority responses, the differences are even more prominent, and differently so than the differences across genders.
More than half of those identifying as a minority used their company’s mental health services (53.4%) compared with just under one-third of non-minorities (32.3%) – that’s a difference of 21.1 percentage points.
Meanwhile, 35.8% of non-minorities procured their own services, compared with 25.7% of minorities.
And again, very telling: 31.9% of non-minorities have not sought professional help or other types of mental health support recently, compared with 20.9% of minorities.
The discrepancies here don’t simply indicate that minorities experience more workplace stressors than their non-minority counterparts – there’s also the possibility that those identifying as minorities are less financially and socially privileged, and therefore don’t have as many resources or means to pursue outside services.
So, when it comes to mental health support, those identifying as minorities will use what’s already available to them – i.e. those services that are in their benefits package at their current job. This may tie into why they’re more likely to go to HR and more likely to learn about – and use – their employer’s resources and services than their non-minority counterparts.
In fact, we found that those identifying as a minority are much more likely than non-minorities to have a clear understanding of the resources and services made available to them at work (74.6% vs. 60.6%).
As stated at the beginning of this chapter – the topic of mental health is a sensitive one for many, and not only because of the stigma. It’s also because it’s personal, and employers need to be mindful of that when building their mental health strategy and policies in their company.
First, being proactive is a must – because one cannot even begin to surmise what each individual needs or wants (or even doesn’t need or doesn’t want) in terms of mental health support. That’s especially shown in the differences in gender and minority status responses.
“Every mental illness has its own unique symptoms, and no two conditions are the same. Some people may hide their symptoms, while others may do very well despite persistent signs. It is best to express concern or assumptions when a sudden change in a co-worker's mood and behavior is observed. Offer support, but don't force stories and let them decide when to share what they're going through.”
And second, being inclusive is crucial to a successful mental health strategy, especially due to the broad variations in responses. You want to be sure there’s something in your company for everyone – not just the mainstream status quo. There are unique challenges faced by different people. Don’t make it uncomfortable by bringing in support only when the need is voiced (or at least, recognized). That just adds to the stress for many.
What employers need to do, consequently, is get ahead of the curve. Establish an emotionally and socially healthy workplace – and adopt the mentality that “it’s better to have it and not need it” when it comes to providing mental health resources and services. And open up those channels of conversation, create safe spaces, and make those resources and services known and accessible to everyone.
“Learn how to create an environment that is more supportive of the mental health of yourself, your colleagues, and your organization as a whole. Since every workplace is different, it is critical to gather the necessary information about the work environment in which you operate before deciding on the policies that best suit your company.”
Now that we’ve discussed the needs, wants, and experiences of our respondents, it’s now time to talk about what’s available to them at their work. What are their employers thinking about in regards to mental health at work? What’s being planned; what’s being prioritized – and what’s not? How did the conversation get started? What are the action items? Let’s get into it.
A third of our respondents say that their employer has always prioritized mental health (32%), and an additional three out of 10 say it became a priority after 2020 – making 62.1% in total who say their company is prioritizing mental health.
Plus, one in four respondents (23.7%) say that it’s going to be a priority for their company going forward.
However, prioritizing mental health and having actual initiatives in place can be two different things altogether. So we asked our respondents what the current status of mental health support looks like in their company.
A combined half of respondents (50.3%) say their company has some initiatives in place, or it’s a permanent part of the company’s mission / vision / values.
But what jumps out is that one in 10 respondents (10.4%) say it’s not a priority for their company at all, and 32.6% say their company wants to do something but they don’t know where to start. That makes 43% who are effectively saying that their company isn’t tangibly doing anything in terms of mental health support.
“I'm almost happy COVID happened so there's more awareness. Unfortunately, though, awareness alone is useless, if companies do little to improve their employees' well being.”
We then asked those 10.4% of respondents why it isn’t a priority for their company. The most popular answer is “I don’t know”, with 39.8% choosing that answer. In a distant second, 23.2% of respondents say their company’s executives aren’t interested or there’s no executive buy-in.
Costs don’t seem to be as much of an issue, with just one in 23 respondents (4.3%) checking off that box as a reason why their company isn’t prioritizing mental health at work.
Not every employer is the same
We found that when we segmented companies based on their various firmographics, some interesting data points start to surface.
When comparing US companies with non-US companies, we found that employees in non-US companies are more than three times as likely to say they didn’t know when mental health became a priority in their company (20% vs. 6.1%) and less than one-third as likely to say mental health would be a priority for their company going forward (10.9% vs. 31.1%).
“Mental health is crucial to the overall success of any organisation. Working for an EU-based company vis a vis an American organisation it has shown me the importance of it. Cultural differences tend to be very apparent. I am happy the stigma is being decreased.”
When breaking down this same data across industries, we found that those in Legal (46.3%) and Retail (44.9%) are most likely to say mental health has always been a priority, with those in Healthcare (42.5%) and Travel (42.1%) most likely to say it became a priority after 2020. Those latter two sectors have been hugely impacted over the last two years – especially at the employee base – so, prioritizing mental health may be a response to that.
In regards to respondents who say mental health will be a priority going forward, companies in HR / Recruiting (35.9%), Logistics / Supply Chain (34.5%), and Hospitality (34%) lead the way.
In terms of respondents who say they don’t know, companies in IT / Technology / SaaS dominate at 28% of all respondents in that industry. This is perhaps surprising considering that tech startups are among the most vocal when it comes to marketing their employer brand as inclusive and supportive of employees.
“There needs to be a more concise platform/strategy to hit multiple points. The industry itself seems to be so fragmented and reactive instead of put together and proactive.”
Now, let’s look at what started the conversation around mental health for employers. Who or what sparked the discussion? This is crucial, because these sorts of initiatives don’t happen in a vacuum – they are a response or reaction, even if proactively done so in anticipation of a greater need for resources and services.
First, we asked respondents who initiated the conversation that ultimately put a higher priority on workplace mental health. A little more than one in four (26.3%) say it was executives / management. Another 23.6% say it was the employees. Roughly one in six (16.3%) say it was the company’s customers who sparked that conversation.
“I believe that the president of the company does want to do more for their employees, but is in the process of finding means of doing so.”
There will also be a cause or at least a catalyst that drives mental health prioritization, ultimately leading to it being part of the overall strategy. So, we also asked respondents what the top motivators are for their respective employers.
The top response was “employee productivity and performance” at 40.6% – which makes sense, considering that this is one of the core components of a smoothly running operation. You want your employees to be productive and excelling in what they do in their job – and in order for that to happen, you need them to be happy, healthy, and motivated. Mental health is crucial to that.
More than a third (36.7%) of respondents say their company is morally motivated – in other words, it’s absolutely the right thing to do for their employees as a business. And one-third (33%) say it’s about maintaining their external company reputation and public image as an employer.
A little deeper now – we found that the top measurable data point to measure progress in mental health initiatives and goals is employee retention at 40.8%, closely followed by performance reviews (38.3%) and employee feedback (38%).
Naturally, companies want to retain their employees. That, combined with the above focus on productivity and performance, makes a compelling case for having a solid well-thought-out strategy for mental health support and services as an employer.
Again, when segmenting the data across firmographics, we found differences in the way respondents answered.
One standout data point is in terms of who initiated the conversation – with respondents in US-based companies more than twice as likely as non-US companies to say it’s their HR representative (24.4% vs. 11.5%). Meanwhile, workers in non-US companies are three times as likely to say they don’t know who sparked that conversation (18.7% vs. 5.1%).
Those working in US-based companies are also far more likely to chalk the motivation up to external company reputation and public image (38.5% vs. 23.6%), talent attraction / engagement / retention (35.7% vs. 15.9%) and current events and trends (34.5% vs. 14.1%) than those in non-US companies.
When we look at the answers across industries, those in Manufacturing (42.2%) are most likely to say executives / management initiated the conversation, and those in Construction (40.9%) and Retail (40.8%) are most likely to credit employees.
Those in Consulting / Business Services (37.9%) are the most likely to say it was their HR representative(s) who sparked the discussion.
Now, let’s look at motivators. We mentioned above how much employee productivity and performance play a role – that is especially the case for those in Travel (52.6%) and HR / Recruiting (50%), but those in Construction are most likely to say it’s the moral obligation that drives workplace mental health strategy (50.9%).
And those in Healthcare (50.6%) are most likely to be motivated by external branding and company image – their sector, after all, is hugely impacted by the events of the last two years, and their work is highly visible and widely monitored. So those in this space will do what it takes to maintain their reputation as employers – including taking care of their employees’ mental health.
We’ve taken a healthy dive into who started the conversation and what the primary movers are in terms of workplace mental health – now, let’s come up for air and go to another area of the data pool: the challenges and blockers that impede progress in that direction.
Honestly, when we asked what the top challenges one’s company faces in meeting stated mental health targets, there’s no standout answer – although the leading answer is “creating a sustainable strategy that lasts over time” at 31%.
The least popular answer is that the mental health goals feel unattainable, with just 17.7% of respondents ticking that box in their answers. This indicates that it’s not about being unable to succeed in that direction – it’s more about how to put together a good package that really drives progress in this area.
We’ve talked earlier about the importance of opening up the channels of communication about mental health, and making your resources and services known from the get-go. What calls attention to this here is how many respondents said they “don’t know” to many of the questions in our survey – for example: 12.6% say they don’t know when mental health became a priority; 39.8% say they don’t know why it’s not a priority in their company; and 11.3% say they don’t know who sparked the conversation.
Better communication from an employer will drive down those “I don’t know” numbers, so let’s look at what people do know about the mental health resources and services that exist at their workplace.
As it happens, nearly a third of respondents (31.9%) do not have a clear understanding of their employer’s resources and services that are available to them.
Again, there will be differences when slicing the data based on firmographics. Some sectors may be better than others at communicating. Some locations may have employers with more resources than others. So:
When looking at this across industries, those in Manufacturing (85.5%), Design / Creative (79.6%), and Construction (78.2%) are the ones most likely to know what their company has to offer in terms of mental health support.
On the flip side, those in Hospitality (46.8%), Consulting / Business Services (46.6%), Travel (45.6%), and Logistics / Supply Chain (43.1%) are most likely to not know about their company’s resources and services.
It’s possible that Manufacturing and Construction are higher-risk and higher-stress industries and therefore it’s a priority for employers in those areas to ensure that their workers are well-informed of the benefits available to them.
Now, finally, let’s take a broad look at the action items that respondents in our survey say are being implemented in their companies. We found that the top action items are flexible work and increased compensation, with 59.4% and 53.4% respectively saying their companies have either already had this action item in place or recently introduced it.
Considering that some of the top workplace stressors mentioned above include work-life balance and financial instability, it’s clear that companies are listening in this regard.
“We are a volunteer fire department with a close-knit group of volunteers who are extremely supportive of each other. Post-incident counseling is always provided as well as professional counseling through our Employee Assistance Program.”
“Unlimited PTO is a great offering to help with workplace mental health because you don't have to worry about using up your days if you need to take time off for your mental and physical well-being.”
However, what we also found is that 31.7% of respondents say there are no plans in place for leadership training in their company. Those companies may want to give it another think, considering the growing discussion around more inclusive leadership, whole-person leadership, mindful leadership, and psychological safety in the workplace.
The easy opportunity for optimism is that the majority of employers are at least thinking about mental health in their workers, are aware of the potential fallout of not providing those services and, in many cases, have taken action in various ways.
Also, many employers – especially in the United States – are understandably worried about their public image and their employer brand, and the impact of mental health on their talent retention metrics – which ties into employee productivity and performance.
Those employers are responding and reacting to those stimuli by putting a higher priority on employee mental wellness in recent years. But what’s gaping here is that, as seen in Chapter 2, most employees’ struggles date back to pre-2020 (or the ‘before times’). Yes, mental health is being discussed more widely in our communities, and that is perhaps one of the good outcomes from the pandemic – but at greater stake is the apparent disconnect between employees and employers here.
“My company is overall doing a great job on ensuring we work in a positive environment and promoting employees wellbeing, however, we are lacking a focus on mental health (it’s part of the benefits we get if we want to but never really discussed much about it).”
That disconnect remains, as we’ve seen in the answers across the board. Employees have their needs, and employers aren’t necessarily meeting those needs and, much less so, aren’t always anticipating those needs ahead of time. There is a lot of ground to cover in terms of education and communication within a company in regards to mental wellness – and the resources and services made available to employees.
The data speaks for itself. We have reasons to be optimistic about mental health in the workplace because the conversation is alive and well. But in many ways, it’s nebulous, incohesive and staggered. While the pandemic and all its tentacles certainly exacerbated the discussion and added fresh challenges of their own, they are at most primarily a catalyst for progress in this area.
Mental health is also a very unique and individual challenge, and it would be presumptuous to expect to solve it across numerous employees with broad strokes of strategy. This does make it more of a challenge for employers accustomed to having standardized processes and policies for their workforce.
However, consider this: even commonly accepted standards of working life, including locations, schedules, time off, compensation, and yes, benefits, are being challenged and upgraded at a much higher pace now than before. Employees are increasingly getting the option to choose when and where they work, and their benefits packages are also more customizable – including options for childcare support, repayment packages for tuition debts, and yes, physical and mental wellness programs.
Opening up the conversation around mental health is, likewise, a crucial step in the right direction. But because of that personal element of mental health, even the healthiest, most supportive and open environments will not suffice for many employees who wish to keep their challenges private. The new standard is a working environment that’s not simply empathetic but also inclusive and respectful of the need for privacy – and has the resources ready as needed without putting the burden on individual employees to ask for help.
Some employers might pose the question: “But this is a personal challenge for my employees and is not for me to solve.” That’s a fair question, but with flexible work, many employees are bringing their work into their home lives, and their home into their work lives. The line between the two is blurred, if not invisible. Expectations have changed in both directions.
If you leave your employees to their own resources to overcome any of this, or presume their challenges and provide catch-all solutions, they will think you don’t care about them as people. And they’ll leave for someone who does – and shows that support through tangible resources.
We’re in a world where talent attraction and retention are increasingly a challenge for many employers, and quit rates are going through the roof. Employers who evolve their employee value proposition to include career development and personal care will get ahead of those who don’t.
Work is stressful, make no mistake. Even those who enjoy their jobs are going to have tough days. But when those tough days lead to lower morale and diminished returns, that’s going to hurt the employer as much as it hurts the employee.
The transactional nature of employment is no longer sufficient – employees want to be happy, healthy, motivated and engaged in their work, and employers need them to be. Take care of your people, and they’ll take care of you in kind.
“Ask how you can help them while respecting their privacy and decisions. Don't rule them out. Continue daily activities with them. Depending on the level of the relationship, keep in touch if they decide to take a break. When they return, be hospitable and make sure to thank them. Avoid adding unnecessary comments as they may make them feel worse. Promote a healthy work environment. Recommend low- or no-cost health strategies to improve everyone's mental health. Take extra steps to ensure employees feel cared and supported by providing the support they need. Implementing mental health first aid training can be a good step.”
We received 1,303 complete responses to our survey, primarily in the 1-500 FTE size range (92.3%), with 17.3% in the IT / Technology / SaaS industry and the rest roughly evenly distributed across other industries. 63.2% are US-based companies.
On a personal level, 53.2% self-identified as a minority, and 45.1% identified as male and 51.8% identified as female, with 2.3% identifying as intersex. Most respondents are in the 21-49 age brackets (93.6% combined), with 40.4% in the 30-39 age bracket.
The survey was live during the period of April 6 to 11, 2022. It was distributed via newsletters and Workable’s social media channels. It included a total of 29 questions.