Most Americans Think It's OK to Discuss Mental Health at Work - Do You?

A new survey uncovers insights on mental health in the workplace.
Updated April 11, 2024
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Last month, a poll conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and market research firm Ipsos delved into the realm of mental health in the workplace. 

The results reveal most Americans believe it’s okay to talk about mental health at work, but might not feel comfortable or ready to do so. 

The poll focused on full-time workers in companies with a staff size of at least 100, and the findings offer a nuanced understanding of employees' perceptions, challenges, and needs concerning mental health awareness, education, and access to resources.

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The end of mental health workplace taboos?

The NAMI-Ipsos survey highlights a notable shift in attitudes toward discussing mental health at work. It reveals that a significant majority, 74%, of Americans now deem it appropriate to engage in conversations about mental health in the workplace. This indicates a trend toward dismantling the long-standing stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Despite this acknowledgment, only 58% of employees actually feel comfortable discussing their mental health at work. Factors such as stigma, lack of communication, and a fear of retaliation are cited as key barriers hindering open dialogue.

Burnout remains a major concern

One of the striking revelations from the survey is the persistent prevalence of burnout among American employees. Burnout, especially rampant among women, young workers, and mid-level employees, poses a significant challenge to workplace well-being. 

Half of all employees, 52%, reported feeling burned out in the past year because of their jobs, and 37% reported burnout made it difficult for them to do their jobs.

Feelings of burnout and mental health communication seem to be tied, as 62% of the employees who reported feeling uncomfortable sharing about their mental health also were suffering from burnout. This has serious implications, for both the health of workers and the health of the companies they work in — 33% noticed their productivity suffer because of their mental health, and 36% said their mental health suffered because of work stress.

This trend also seems to be disproportionately affecting younger workers with 34% of employees in the 18-29 age range and 28% of employees aged 30-49 reporting they have considered quitting because of their work’s impact on their mental health. Conversely, only 21% of employees aged 50-64 shared the sentiment.

The survey findings indicate that employees who feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health at work are more likely to experience burnout, underscoring the critical link between mental health support and mitigating doing too much. The impact of burnout extends beyond individual well-being, affecting productivity and job satisfaction, and even prompting considerations of quitting among a notable proportion of employees.

The same held true for managers, who feel their workplaces lack the resources to talk about their mental health.

How companies can support employees' mental health

Addressing mental health challenges in the workplace necessitates a multifaceted approach. Employers play a pivotal role in fostering a supportive environment conducive to open discussions and access to resources. 

To effectively support employees' mental health, companies can:

  • Prioritize mental health training. The survey underscores the importance of mental health and well-being training in creating a positive workplace culture. Providing employees, especially managers and supervisors, with training on how to address mental health concerns can enhance awareness, reduce stigma, and equip them with the tools to support their teams effectively.
  • Enhance access to mental health care. Offering comprehensive mental health care coverage is essential for creating a supportive workplace environment. Employers should ensure that mental health benefits are readily accessible and well-communicated to employees. Additionally, bridging the gap between coverage availability and employees' awareness of how to access these benefits is crucial.
  • Promote a culture of caring. Cultivating a workplace culture that prioritizes employee well-being and fosters inclusivity is paramount. Companies should strive to create an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and comfortable discussing mental health concerns without fear of judgment or reprisal.
  • Implement additional support resources. Beyond traditional mental health care coverage, companies can offer supplementary resources such as free, confidential mental health support services. These resources can serve as valuable supplements to formal healthcare benefits, providing employees with additional avenues for seeking support and guidance.

Bottom line

As organizations navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, addressing mental health concerns emerges as a pressing imperative. The NAMI-Ipsos survey underscores the evolving landscape of mental health in the workplace, revealing both progress and persistent challenges.

By prioritizing mental health awareness, fostering open dialogue, and providing comprehensive support resources, companies can cultivate a workplace culture that promotes employee well-being and productivity. Embracing a stigma-free approach to mental health not only benefits individual employees but also contributes to a more resilient and thriving workforce as a whole, and allows individual workers to thrive in their roles and move beyond living paycheck to paycheck.

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Author Details

Georgina Tzanetos Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who has been active in financial media for the past six years. She holds a master's in political economy from NYU, where she studied distressed labor markets.