Employee Mental Health in an Uncertain World: Shifting From a State of Crisis to a Culture of Mental Wellness
Modern Health report on executives, HR leaders, and employees’ views on the state of mental health benefits at work
Modern Health, a leading workplace mental health platform supporting enterprises globally, published a wide-ranging study of executives, HR decision makers, managers and employees to examine the state of employee mental health in the workplace. The research, commissioned by Modern Health and conducted by Forrester Consulting for the second year in a row, set out to uncover how employers are responding to employees’ dramatically increasing needs for mental health support after several years of an unrelenting global pandemic, political and social unrest, economic uncertainty, and much more.
The survey of 1,700+ employees, including managers, non-manager employees, C-level executives, and HR leaders, found that employees and employers both recognize that mental health benefits are an integral part of a healthy, productive workplace culture, but have widely differing perceptions of if and how the current standard of benefits is meeting employee needs. While 84% of employers plan to increase or enhance employee mental health benefits in the next year, there is still a significant gap in how employees perceive their employer’s commitment to mental health and wellness. Seventy-four percent of employees report wanting their employer to care about their mental health, but only half (53%) feel that they actually do.
“The past few years have left many of us feeling burnt out, exhausted, and stressed, so it’s not surprising that the topic of mental health has been forced into the spotlight. We’re seeing a bigger need for support as more people speak out about their mental health challenges but despite this progress, people around the world are still struggling to access care that meets their needs,” said Alyson Watson, founder and CEO at Modern Health. “We are at a critical inflection point where organizations need to shift from the mindset of providing mental health support as a crisis response to it being an integrated and strategic part of the employee experience. Done right, the end result means both the companies and the human beings who make them run are more connected and engaged.”
Shift from Crisis to Culture: Closing the Gap
Employers are recognizing the stress that their workforces are currently under with three out of four employers (75%) recognizing that the current state of the U.S. economy is causing employee anxiety. However, only 45% have already taken steps to address this anxiety. As companies and their employees adapt and evolve toward the future of work, long-term success requires both an investment in mental health and a workforce equipped, encouraged, and willing to prioritize it. This happens when companies move from viewing mental health as a crisis response to a permanent, values-based commitment to employee well-being. The first step is closing the gap between employer and employee perception. According to our research, 85% of employers feel they actively listen to the needs of employees, but only 51% of employees agree. Similarly, only 46% of employees believe their company invests enough in the mental health of employees, while a significant 81% of employers believe they invest enough.
Additionally, while around two in three employees report feeling connected, supported, and seen at work, when employers were asked the same question, they significantly overstated how their employees feel by at least 20% on every metric. For example, only 59% of employees reported feeling seen by their company and colleagues for their unique contributions to work, while 85% of employers said their employees felt seen.
The Need to Clear a Path
In order to create a workforce that is creative, adaptive, and resilient, the report advises that business leaders need to create a path that allows employees to use their mental health benefits without fear of reprisal or negative stigma. For employee behavior to scale across the organization, that behavior needs to be messaged, modeled, enabled, and permitted repeatedly to employees. One troublesome finding is that only 51% of employees feel safe in their role if their mental health status were to be revealed.
Compared to the 2021 study, employees are even more desperate for a culture that embraces mental health acceptance and support. A year ago, employees were asking for more mental health support in the workplace. Today, their desire goes beyond simply implementing benefits—they want to feel empowered and encouraged to utilize these tools and want their leaders to acknowledge and reduce barriers to access. Last year, 64% of employees felt they had workday flexibility to care for mental health needs, while only 54% feel that way today. And more than two thirds (68%) of employees felt like their work culture was a safe place to discuss mental health and ask for support in 2021, but only 51% agree today. These trends are moving in the wrong direction. According to our findings, a full 77% of employers say they will provide mental health support to their employees, but they think it’s up to the employee to use their benefits and managers shouldn’t be expected to encourage them.
Leadership modeling is also a critical component to employees feeling comfortable using mental health benefits to their fullest. According to the survey, the vast majority of leaders (80%) feel like they are expressing their own vulnerability when it comes to mental health, but employees do not see, hear, or feel that vulnerability coming through, since only 30% of employees agree.
At the same time, 74% of employers think employees are uncomfortable hearing about their colleagues’ mental health, but only 31% of employees said it actually makes them uncomfortable.
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