Survey: Rising Mental Health Concerns Demand Deeper Employer Focus
Workspan Daily
June 16, 2023
Key Takeaways

  • A call for enhanced well-being programs. While some workers are reporting worsening mental health, they are also saying they have access to fewer employer-sponsored well-being support programs, according to a Conference Board survey. 
  • Managers need training and self-reflection. Managers are advised to look inward, address their own stressors and set boundaries before helping their employees deal with stress and burnout. 
  • Understand the organizational dynamics. The balance between remote and in-person work can be found by asking employees what is important to them, being transparent about the needs of the business and agreeing about what success should look like, realizing that one size rarely fits all. 

More than one-third of American workers report that their mental health has taken a turn for the worse, according to a recent report. Among key factors are longer hours and excessive workloads.  

The latest workforce survey from The Conference Board, a non-profit business membership and research group organization, polled more than 1,100 people (mainly office workers), finding that nearly half who reported decreased mental health worked more than 50 hours per week. 

Data points that directly reflect how employees feel about how their mental health status is affected include: 

  • 34% said their self-reported level of mental health is lower than six months ago. 
  • 37% said their sense of belonging is lower. 
  • 49% of women said increased workload/hours hurt their mental health compared to 39% of men. 
  • 62% of workers said programs that support emotional well-being are available this year, down 26 percentage points from 88% a year ago. 

The survey did reveal that being able to take “no work” personal time off (PTO) days without guilt, resonated with 55% of respondents, who said this would help their mental health. Also, 52% say a hybrid/flexible work schedule would help, while 48% said work from home/anywhere would help, and 47% said that training managers to promote a better work-life balance also would help. 

Employer Strategies and Solutions 

According to The Conference Board’s Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital, the survey shows that many workers are really struggling with their mental health. “This could be due to a combination of factors both inside and outside of the workplace, but the fact remains that it can have an outsized impact on work performance,” Ray said.  

She said workers need the ability to truly disconnect and reset, but many companies are now recognizing that this can be a major challenge when their colleagues are still working.  

“Some businesses have opted for ‘no work’ days or weeks when everyone is off,” Ray said. “But letting your employees disconnect can simply mean ensuring everyone has an established backup and setting strict no-contact policies for staff on vacation.” 

Another way to combat the rising negativity, Ray added, is to re-examine deliverables (strategic importance, progress to date, necessary resources or lack thereof, implications of non-completion, cost, etc.) and decide what, if anything, can be delayed, streamlined, converted, shortened, reimagined or delivered by additional internal or external resources.   

“Then, create a staffing plan to distribute the remaining capacity across the culled list of deliverables,” she said, adding that that if a mismatch between the staffing necessary for critical deliverables and existing capacity remains, managers need to step in. 

“Managers should escalate the issue and share the analysis and a proposed solution, which will likely request additional funding for contingent, external capacity to complete critical projects,” she said. 

The Effect on Productivity  

Laine Thomas Conway, vice president and communication strategy thought leader at Alight, said while it’s no secret that a company’s greatest asset is its workforce, especially during uncertain economies, there is continued evidence of mounting stress on today’s employees — directly affecting workplace productivity and engagement.  

For example, recent data from Alight’s “2022 International Workforce and Wellbeing Mindset Study” found that 73% of responding employees in the U.S. and western Europe rate their current stress levels as moderate or high. 

“To help employees better manage their time and workload under reduced staff levels and the current recession-proofing environment, employers need to be hyper-focused on addressing the underlying issue — mitigating employee stress and burnout,” she said.  

To get there, she added, employers, especially managers, must identify the best strategies and resources to help employees better manage their time and workload, in addition to life’s stressors. 

“Stress, burnout and mental health are very personal issues for each employee, yet often an employee’s manager is someone who has a direct view into whether the employee is showing signs of struggling, burning out or having job-related stress,” she said. 

Thomas Conway said one strategy employers can deploy is to facilitate the proper training throughout the organization to help employees at all levels, especially so managers can better understand how to mitigate stress and identify signs of burnout from their direct reports. 

For example, she said, proper training could help managers understand their own habits and whether they are setting boundaries within their own work behavior to help control potential burnout throughout their team.  

“Consider a manager who works weekends or late into the evening,” she said. “Their team may think they have to do the same, even if it’s against the values of the organization.” 

Thomas Conway said that employers can look to provide a selective suite of employee assistance tools in place to help employees. These can range from having a strong Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to courses on stress management or encouraging employees to feel safe discussing mental health and fostering a culture that recognizes issues and works hard to resolve them.  

“This allows employees to feel free to make choices that balance their work-life without worrying about the consequences it might have on their career,” she said. 

Focus on Culture and Well-Being  

Janet Young, director, well-being and health services, people and culture at TELUS Health, said creating a psychologically safe space for employees to prioritize their well-being and take their time off can have numerous benefits, including an improved level of employee engagement that comes when an employee feels valued and cared about by their employer.  

It can also lead to a more creative, productive workforce that will likely be able to better avoid burnout and other mental health-related pitfalls.  

“Without question, an employer that supports the well-being of their employees in this way will also fare well when retaining and attracting talent, as more and more employees prioritize their personal time and well-being, especially in a post-pandemic world,” Young said. 

As for the ongoing remote vs. in office debate and how it relates to mental health relief, Matthew Chow, chief mental health officer at TELUS Health, said that for any employer it’s about finding the right balance between providing vital opportunities to collaborate in-person and not losing the benefits of flexible working arrangements.  

“This balance can be found by asking employees what is important to them, being transparent about the needs of the business and agreeing about what success should look like,” he said. “One size rarely fits all, in life or in business.” 

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

For more information and resources related to this article see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics: 


Related WorldatWork Resources
Four Ways Companies Can Create Safe Spaces for Trans and Non-Binary Employees
Consider Remote Employees When Communicating Importance of Sick Leave
Returnships Open Doors to Experienced Talent
Related WorldatWork Courses
Total Rewards Management
Strategic Communication in Total Rewards