Qualtrics Study Reveals the State of Workplace Mental Health

  • Follow-On Study Offers A Rare Pre- And Post-Pandemic Comparison On The State Of Workplace Mental Health And Spotlights The Heightened Stakes For Employers

Mind Share Partners, a national nonprofit that is changing the culture of workplace mental health, launched “Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow”—a study that explores mental health, stigma, and work culture in U.S. workplaces. This year’s study is sponsored by ServiceNow and Morrison & Foerster and is a follow-on to the 2019 Mental Health at Work Report.

76% of full-time U.S. workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year (a 29% increase from 2019)

Read more about the findings in our Harvard Business Review article.

The study reveals that mental health challenges are impacting a majority of U.S. workers at all levels of seniority for significant periods of time. 76% of full-time U.S. workers reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year (a 29% increase from 2019), with 80% of study respondents reporting their symptoms cumulatively lasting a month or more, and 36% reporting symptoms lasting five months to an entire year. Executive and C-level employees were more likely to report experiencing at least one mental health symptom, compared to managers and individual contributors.

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With a growing dialogue around “The Great Resignation,” there are clear correlations to employers losing talent due to unsupported mental health challenges. The study found that 50% of respondents had left a previous role at a company due, at least in part, to mental health reasons, compared to 34% in 2019. This number grows to 81% for Gen Z and 68% for Millennial respondents.

“Prior to the pandemic, U.S. employers had just begun to acknowledge the prevalence and impact of mental health challenges at work, the need to address stigma, as well as the emerging link to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI),” said Kelly Greenwood, Founder & CEO of Mind Share Partners.

“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,” Greenwood said.

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Other Key Findings Include:

Workplace factors have a clear impact on mental health.

  • 84% of study 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%).
  • Employers’ return to office plans are negatively impacting mental health. The most common ways were the policies themselves around in-person vs. remote work after the pandemic (41%) and lack of work-life balance or flexibility based on the policy (37%).
  • The study found that employees who have felt supported by their employers with the pandemic, racial injustices, return to office planning, and/or mental health overall have better mental health and engagement outcomes.

Employees are talking about mental health more, but 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%).

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs continue to play a strong role in workplace mental health, but significant investment and commitment are needed to alleviate disproportionate challenges exacerbated by the events of 2020, including, but not limited to, systemic racism and trauma experienced by Black employees and school closures due to Covid-19 impacting parents and caregivers.

  • Younger workers (i.e., Gen Z and Millennial respondents), caregivers, and respondents from historically underrepresented communities (including LGBTQ+, transgender, Black, and Latinx respondents) tended to be more likely to experience mental health symptoms, more likely to say that work or the workplace environment negatively impacted their mental health, and more likely to have left a previous role due, at least in part, to mental health reasons.
  • Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were among those who felt the least supported amidst the pandemic and racial hate crimes / injustices, alongside Native American respondents for the pandemic, and mixed-race respondents for the racial hate crimes / injustices.

Employers are investing more into mental health and employees are increasingly drawn to day-to-day support versus temporary, Band-Aid solutions.

  • Resources provided by employers to employees grew since the pandemic, including extra paid time off (55% growth), mental health days (41% growth), and mental health training (33% growth).
  • There was significant growth in the use of accommodations by employees.
  • The “resource” most desired by respondents (31%) was a more open culture around mental health.

Employers are deepening their investment in supporting mental health at work through company culture, but still haven’t achieved true culture change.

  • 32% more respondents believe that mental health was actually prioritized at their company (54% in 2021; 41% in 2019).
  • 27% more respondents believe their company leaders were advocates for mental health at work (47% in 2021; 37% in 2019). 21% more respondents believe that their manager was equipped to support them if they had a mental health condition or symptom (47% in 2021; 39% in 2019).

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The study indicates an overarching theme that the future of workplace mental health is through employer investment in culture change—including sustainable ways of working. Employers must shift their view of mental health from being an “individual’s issue” to a company priority. Mind Share Partners’ Ecosystem of a Mentally Healthy Workplace Framework highlights how everyone within an organization has a role in influencing and changing the broader culture around work and mental health.

“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, 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.”

“We are not the same workers we once were,” said Nick Tzitzon, Chief Strategy and Corporate Affairs Officer at ServiceNow. “As leaders, we need the grace and imagination to open the conversation about mental health, starting and supporting frank, sometimes difficult, conversations in the workplace.”

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