5 things to know about mental health in the workplace

There’s 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’s a bright side to the crisis: It’s put a spotlight on how employers think about employee wellbeing efforts and the programs they put in place.

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

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

Employee mental health is still suffering—and it’s 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’s due to a number of issues, ranging from the continuing pandemic to social concerns and financial uncertainty. The difference as of late in regard to workers’ mental health issues? In many cases, those problems are causing them to look for other jobs. 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 that their work environment has hurt their mental health, according to the American Psychological Association.

Inflation is having an effect. Inflation, which rose 9.1% 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 destabilizing force,” says Paula Allen, 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 U.S. employees in May, finds that 20% 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. (Read more about inflation’s effect on mental health here.)

Related: 5 employer strategies to help with soaring inflation

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Return-to-office policies are also impacting mental health. 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% of workforce stress and anxiety, according to Talkspace research. That’s why it’s 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 (and how they might mitigate that associated anxiety).

Related: 3 ways HR can support mental health as workers return to the office

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%) of workers say employee assistance programs are important, just 30% of employers offer them.

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

Employees want workplaces that prioritize 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’re offering comprehensive mental health help.

Many employers have stepped up offerings and support over the past two-plus years—like employee assistance programs or mental health apps. And although these efforts have been helpful, says Arthur Evans, Jr., APA’s chief executive officer, “it is important to recognize 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.”

Learn more about the state of employee wellbeing at HRE‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference next May in Las Vegas. Registration is now open.

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.