- A new poll from the American Psychological Association shows that 81% of employees would prefer to work for companies that provide support for mental health concerns.
- Discrimination, harassment, heavy workloads, and persistent monitoring all impact well-being at work.
- The number of employers offering improved mental health support has likely increased during the pandemic.
- Yet many employees — particularly those among marginalized groups — may feel their mental well-being isn’t being prioritized in the workplace.
New findings from the American Psychological Association (APA) suggest the mindset of the American workforce may be shifting. Stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on employee well-being, with many actively seeking new work.
Insights from the APA’s 2022 Work and Well-being Survey reveal that 81% of workers in the United States are seeking employment opportunities at companies that actively support employee mental health. The survey shows that many challenges arise within the workplace itself, particularly in hostile work environments.
“We are currently living in a time with uncertainties created by the ever-changing global pandemic, international unrest, continuing supply chain issues, skyrocketing inflation, and great political divisiveness,” Dennis P. Stolle, JD, PhD, senior director of the APA’s Office of Applied Psychology, told Healthline.
“A typical adult spends one-third of their life working — it’s not possible for employees to leave issues at the door when they arrive at work.”
According to the survey, nearly 1 in 5 workers (18%) described their workplace as somewhat or very toxic.
Stolle noted the percentage was significantly higher among those who do manual labor (22%), compared to those who do office work (15%).
The findings also indicate that one-third of respondents had experienced physical violence, verbal abuse, or harassment at work in the past year.
In addition, companies with a tendency to track employee activity were highlighted in the survey as an emerging factor. Respondents who were monitored at work were twice as likely to report their work environment negatively impacted their mental well-being.
“One of the more surprising results was that more than half [53%] of the respondents reported that their employer monitors them using computers, software, cameras, barcode scanners, or other technology,” Stolle said, adding that the actual number may be higher. “The remaining 47% includes those who do not know whether they are being monitored.”
Some employers have acknowledged the impact of the pandemic on worker well-being and started offering improved mental health support to their staff. According to the APA survey, one-third of workers said their company’s mental health initiatives have improved since the pandemic began.
“71% of our survey respondents said they believe their employer is more concerned about employees’ mental health now than they were in the past,” Stolle said. “This is good news.”
In addition to mental health support, the survey indicates employees would also like to see:
- more flexible work hours (41%)
- a culture that respects paid time off (34%)
- the ability to work remotely (33%)
- a 4-day work week (31%)
A vast majority (95%) of respondents view initiatives such as these effective for improving mental health.
Stress — one of the most common mental health concerns — may significantly affect well-being.
“Mental health should be a priority in general to achieve overall well-being,” said Taish Malone, PhD, licensed professional counselor with Mindpath Health. “It dictates how we experience a large part of our lives.”
Physiological symptoms of stress may include:
According to Rachel Cavallaro, PsyD, a licensed psychologist with Thriveworks in Boston, stress may also make some individuals more prone to getting sick, leading to increased absences.
Cavallaro noted the impacts of stress on mental health are plentiful and may include:
- increased substance use
“Employees may feel unmotivated, complain more, have increased rates of accidents, be more likely to leave, and have an overall sense of low morale,” Cavallaro said.
“Challenges in the workplace can lead to problems with timeliness and punctuality, reduced decision-making ability, poor concentration, inappropriate behaviors or outbursts, and poor relationships with others due to moodiness, irritability, and social withdrawal.”
Mental health supports and flexible work hours may offer some improvements to workplace culture. Here are some other strategies employers can implement to prioritize employee well-being.
Prioritize transparency and open dialogues
Stolle noted that nearly half of the survey respondents (46%) expressed concern about what would happen if they told their employer about a mental health condition. They worried whether it would have a negative impact on their standing in the workplace due to stigma.
“While many employers are moving in the right direction of placing more emphasis on employee mental health, we still need to do much more to normalize conversations surrounding mental health,” Stolle said.
Cavallaro added that managers can help reduce fear and stigma by creating a safe and open dialog for employees to discuss their mental health issues if need be.
“Transparency, open door policies, and providing feedback are critical,” Cavallaro said, adding that gratitude is also key. “One of the main reasons employees leave is because they do not feel appreciated by their manager.”
Host regular check-ins about workloads
Excessive workloads inevitably contribute to stress. In fact, the
“In our fast-paced, supply and demand, quantity-over-quality culture, it’s common for employees to feel pressured and be defensive of their work stability by stretching themselves more than they should,” Malone said.
To help mitigate workload-related stress, employers and managers could regularly check in with employees and ask how they can help support them.
Improve diversity from the top down
The APA survey indicates that respondents who live with a disability, are Black, or identify as LGBTQ+ reported higher rates of discrimination in the workplace.
“Until discrimination is fully addressed, some groups are going to continue to suffer disproportionately from work-related mental health issues,” Stolle said.
To begin addressing such concerns, individuals in leadership roles may need to take initiative. “Those in positions of authority can help create and encourage a culture of healthy collaboration, which embraces and respects differences,” Malone said.
To that end, the survey indicates that workplaces with women, People of Color, or LGBTQ+ individuals in senior leadership positions are associated with having better equity, diversity, and inclusion policies.
The APA survey paints a picture of a changing American workforce that desires improvements to mental health support at work.
While the pandemic may have exacerbated stressors among workers, particularly those in marginalized communities, it also provided an opportunity for employers to take action to prioritize employee well-being.
Transparency, manageable workloads and expectations, and improved diversity are some ways employers can support the mental health of their employees at the leadership level. Employees may also benefit from prioritizing their mental wellness outside of the workplace.