A new survey shows that American workers’ mental health is plummeting.
The Conference Board, a New York City-based business think-tank, polled over 1,100 workers. Around 34% of workers reported their mental health levels were lower than six months ago, according to the study.
The problem: workers feel overwhelmed and unable to take a break. According to the study, 37% said their level of engagement is lower than six months ago. Yet, it also showed that employees are working harder than ever. For instance, “48% with declining mental health say they work 50+ hours per week,” and 69% also “say they are applying more effort than is expected at their job occasionally or consistently compared to six months ago.”
The implications: companies may have to offer more flexible work arrangements, including work-free vacation time off and hybrid work, to help improve their workers’ well-being.
“Over time, they are seeing their self-reported levels of mental health decline, their level of engagement declined, their connection to mission and purpose of the organization declined,” said Rebecca Ray, the executive vice president of Human Capital at The Conference Board.
Ray said companies need to provide their employees with a healthy work environment to get the best out of them.
“You don’t get engagement if people don’t feel as though they belong there, where they’re treated with respect where they have a fair deal,” Ray said.
The study also reports that workers feel less able to communicate with their managers about their mental health challenges. Roughly 38% feel uncomfortable talking to their managers about their mental health, double the number one year ago. Instead of explicitly asking for time off to address their mental health issues, according to the study, 13% of workers took “unofficial mental health days,” 19% used sick days and 18% simply kept working in spite of their struggles.
Fortunately, the report outlines several courses of action to improve workers’ mental health. For instance, around 47% of study participants say that training managers to promote a healthy work-life balance would help. Also, 55% of the study participants asserted that more “no work” personal days would alleviate their distress. Another 52% said a flexible/hybrid work schedule would also help.
“People are demanding flexibility, they’re demanding the opportunity to put their lives together in a way that makes sense for them, so that they can preserve their mental health,” Ray said. “And companies that get that and can figure out how to do it well, are going to be well positioned to be able to attract and retain higher quality candidates.”
Nick Bloom, the William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University, said that hybrid work improves mental health.
“You have a couple of days a week to avoid the stress of travel and commuting, and get some time in a more relaxed home setting. But you still get three days a week in a social setting with work colleagues,” said Bloom, who was not involved with The Conference Board study.
In the report, Ray emphasized the importance of workers getting a chance to “truly disconnect and reset.” Ray said “no work PTO,” is becoming increasingly popular. She pointed out that time off could level the playing field for marginalized groups including disabled people.
“There are going to be some people for whom flexibility is the only way they can think of to manage their personal professional lives, they may have, you know, obligations to family or, you know, a variety of things,” Ray said. “And it’s just simply not possible. You have some people that need time for regular medical treatments. That’s really hard if everyone has to be in the office all the time, or on some kind of a rigid schedule.”
Ray added that more PTO could also retain such women and minority workers.
“We’ve worked so hard to bring them into the organization and hopefully they bring them through the leadership pipeline, and to start to really reflect society. And when you make some of these kinds of rules, they disproportionately impacting certain groups,” she said. “And so we don’t want to lose the progress we’ve made in helping people see that there’s a future for them at X company.”
Dylan Croll is a Yahoo Finance reporter.
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