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Survey: Mental Health Worsens for 34% of US Workers

More than one-third of US workers report that their mental health has taken a turn for the worse. What’s the culprit? Survey respondents say, among other factors, long hours and excessive workloads.  For example, the survey found that nearly half who reported decreased mental health worked more than 50 hours per week.

What could help address these mental health concerns? Flexibility and work-life balance are the top things workers believe would help. More than half say being able to take “no work” PTO days without guilt would be useful—the top response.

The latest workforce survey from The Conference Board polled more than 1,100 individuals—predominantly office workers. Respondents weighed in on their mental health, engagement levels, and job security. Mental health is defined as a state of mind characterized by emotional well-being, good behavioral adjustment, relative freedom from anxiety and disabling symptoms, and a capacity to establish constructive relationships and cope with the ordinary demands and stresses of life. Key findings include:

Workers report their mental health is decreasing.

  • 34 percent say their self-reported level of mental health is lower than six months ago.
  • 37 percent say their sense of belonging is lower.

Despite decreasing engagement (the desire to go above and beyond), nearly 70 percent say they are working harder than is expected of them.

  • 37 percent say their level of engagement is lower than six months ago. At the same time, 69 percent say they are applying more effort than is expected at their job occasionally or consistently compared to six months ago.

Engagement is decreasing more for Millennials than other generations.

  • 43 percent of Millennials say their level of engagement has decreased in the last six months, compared to 38 percent of Gen X and 34 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • This may be why 40 percent of Millennials report doing only what is expected of them or less (think “Bare Minimum Mondays”), compared to 30 percent of Gen X and 29 percent of Baby Boomers who report the same thing.

Does declining mental health make workers less engaged in their jobs—or vice versa?

  • Nearly 70 percent of workers who report decreased mental health also report decreased levels of engagement.

Workload and work hours have some of the worst effects on employees’ mental health.

  • 48 percent of workers who report decreased mental health work 50+ hours a week.
  • 49 percent of women say increased workload/hours hurt their mental health, compared to 39 percent of men.
  • 50 percent of Millennials say their workload hurt their mental health, compared to 48 percent of Gen X and 40 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • Also hurting workers’ mental health are poor workplace communication (42 percent), lessened ability to balance the demands of work and personal life (41 percent), and time spent in meetings (40 percent).

Toxic work culture is also hurting mental health.

  • More than 1 in 4 workers (26 percent) say toxic work culture is having an impact on their mental health.

Workers are less comfortable speaking about mental health challenges at work.

  • 38 percent do not feel comfortable speaking to their manager about their mental health, more than double the number (18 percent) who were not comfortable a year ago.
  • 50 percent needed time off to address mental health issues but did not request a mental health break explicitly.
  • Instead, workers took unofficial mental health days (13 percent), used sick days (19 percent), or continued to work (18 percent).

Flexibility and work-life balance are the top things workers believe would help their mental health.

  • Being able to take “no work” PTO days without guilt: 55 percent say this would help their mental health.
  • Flexible/hybrid work schedule: 52 percent
  • Work from home/anywhere: 48 percent
  • Training managers to promote a healthy work-life balance: 47 percent

“This survey reveals 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,” said Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President, Human Capital, The Conference Board. “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. But letting your employees disconnect can simply mean ensuring everyone has an established backup and setting strict no contact policies for staff on vacation.”

Programs to support mental health and well-being for workers may be decreasing.

  • Programs that support emotional well-being: 62 percent of workers say they are available compared to 88 percent one year ago.
  • Financial well-being initiatives: 52 percent say they are available, compared to 76 percent last year.
  • Programs for physical well-being: 54 percent say they are available, compared to 74 percent last year.

Of the programs that are offered, many are not being used.

  • Programs that support emotional well-being: Available for 62 percent, but only currently or previously used by 22 percent.
  • Financial well-being initiatives: Available for 52 percent, but only used by 22 percent.
  • Support for childcare/dependents: Available to 33 percent, but only used by six percent.

Workers would find certain programs useful, although not available at their current organizations.

  • 32 percent of workers say they would find support for childcare/dependents useful; an outstanding number (48 percent) of Millennials agree.
  • 37 percent of workers would find training to recognize signs of mental health concerns useful.
  • 41 percent would find training to build resilience useful.

Policies that promote flexibility would have an impact on workers’ intent to stay.

  • Of those who said their intent to stay at their company decreased in the last six months:
    • 55 percent said being able to take “no work” PTO days without guilt would be helpful in supporting employee mental health.
    • 45 percent said the option to work from home/anywhere would be helpful.
    • 44 percent said training managers to promote a healthy work-life balance would be helpful.

Despite recent news of layoffs, 73 percent of workers are secure about keeping their jobs.

  • 39 percent secure; 34 percent very secure.
  • 35 percent are currently looking for a new job or planning to in the next six months.
  • 83 percent of workers who do not feel secure about their job say they are less likely to stay.