We are constantly seeing countries like the United Kingdom featured in the news about mental health and its importance. Their understanding and perceptions of mental health in the workplace have been shifting over the last few years, especially with the outspoken support of Britain’s royal family.
In the U.S., however, we are still only at the beginning stages of this important topic, and research on the prevalence of mental health and stigma, especially from a workplace lens, is limited.
What does the lived experience of mental health and stigma in U.S. workplaces today look like?
Mind Share Partners addresses this question in its 2019 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with SAP and Qualtrics. On May 1, 2019, they shared the initial findings with 100+ business leaders on a panel at the Mental Health at Work Conference.
The panel included:
Here are 6 major takeaways from the survey panel for businesses to understand the state of mental health in U.S. workplaces.
1. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they had experienced one or more of a dozen negative mental health symptoms in the past year.
When asked if she was surprised by this stat, panelist Kelly Greenwood shared, “So it is definitely not surprising to me now. However, 3 years ago prior to starting Mind Share Partners, it would have been shocking to me.
I think people are much more likely to acknowledge symptoms rather than acknowledging having a full mental health condition.
I think it goes to show just how pervasive this is and how mental health is a spectrum.”
2. Mental health symptoms were equally prevalent across seniority levels within companies, from individual contributors to the C-level.
Panelist Nick Tzitzon shared, “I think frankly, we’re going to need people at higher levels and positions within organizations to admit and to be open about mental health if we’re going to make it easy and comfortable for people who were coming up in their careers to feel comfortable sharing their own experiences.”
Kelly added, “Humans are humans. Unfortunately, so many of us buy into this myth that it’s low performers who have mental health conditions or that if you have a mental health condition, you must be a low performer, and this is just not true. High performers experience mental health conditions too, it’s just not as widely represented in the media.”
3. Mental health is a diversity and inclusion issue. The study found significant differences across racial and ethnic groups, gender, age, sexual orientation, and parents vs. non-parents.
Kelly noted, “At Mind Share Partners we are really seeing that mental health is the next frontier of diversity and inclusion. Companies that are far along in their D&I journeys are looking at disability and mental health as a subset within that as the next step they want to take. Typically when you think about D&I, it’s actively trying to recruit folks into your organization’s to add to the diversity around the table. With mental health, it’s actually the flip of that. It’s knowing these people exist at your organization already, you just don’t know who they are.”
An important note from Nick included, “We just want them to be our colleagues.
If this is true inclusion, then it has to be possible for people to be who they are without necessarily feeling like they’re different or they’re part of a special group.”
4. The study found that 20% of respondents had voluntarily left roles in the past for mental health reasons; this number jumps to 50% for millennials and 75% for Gen Z-ers.
Kelly reflected, “This means that culture change is coming. Mind Share Partners exists to speed that along. We have absolutely seen that anecdotally, and now the numbers back it as well, that
Millennials and Gen Z are really demanding solid mental health benefits and a level of transparency around the conversation at their workplaces.”
5. Two-thirds of respondents said they would be happy to comfort or be part of a support group for a colleague that had a mental health condition, but only one-third of respondents said that they would be willing to reach out for help.
Nick reflected, “The fact that people would associate being part of the solution is a good thing, but admitting the problem is a bad thing tells us that we still have work to do. Somehow we have to convince people it is not a career-ending proposition to be vulnerable and to show that you have a challenge that you’re trying to confront.”
Kelly added, “I think we really just need to empower people to be okay doing this and I think that needs to come from leadership, particularly CEOs, speaking out about this issue and normalizing it. This shows that it’s not going to be career limiting to start talking about this.”
6. About half of the respondents said they had a negative experience talking about mental health at work. They were very hesitant to go talk to HR personnel or to even their own managers. When they did go talk to them, they said it was a negative experience.
Kelly shared great advice for managers stating, “Any sort of allyship or personal story sharing should really be hopeful and if it’s not, don’t say it.
Recognize that it takes so much courage to approach a leader in the workplace, especially if you’re not in a position of power at work. Really try to make that as human and as easy as possible.
It’s okay as a manager to say something like ‘Thank you so much for sharing, I need some time to think about that. Can we put a meeting on the calendar for tomorrow? I really appreciate you sharing that with me.’ It’s okay not to have the answers, but just try to be graceful about it. It goes a long way to really equip your managers to have these communication tools.”
To learn more about these findings and more, you can download Mind Share Partners’ Mental Health at Work 2019 Report here.