‘Companies sleepwalking into mental health crisis’: COVID pushes workers to the brink, new research shows
Your colleagues at work can get into trouble.
As the pandemic rages outside, feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, burnout and stress continue to grow within an increasing number of employees.
In the UK, a quarter of workers feel they have reached a psychological breaking point. According to a new study by health insurer Lime Group, more than half of those surveyed feel the pressure to hide from their colleagues the sinking feeling that comes with their difficulty coping with both the stress of work and the stress of the pandemic.
Lime calls the phenomenon “pleasanteeism,” which translates to putting on a brave face and presenting the very best versions of ourselves when we return to the workplace. Apparently they don’t even try very hard to completely mask the fear. Nearly one in five felt that colleagues knew they were hiding something deeper.
The study finds that “fun” in a workplace can be corrosive. At its worst, such denial masks deep-seated problems in the workplace and undermines efforts to promote open dialogue about mental health in the workplace. About one in six (16%) of employees felt their mental health needs were supported at work. In addition, more than a third feel that their employers do not provide them with sufficient general support.
Unsurprisingly, 40% say they’ll look for a new job if their employers don’t do more. That figure is in line with other studies that show employers could experience the great exodus as soon as the offices reopen in the coming weeks and months.
“Companies are sleepwalking in a mental health crisis,” concludes Lime’s study.
The situation is likely to worsen as the pandemic continues; four in ten now feel less resilient than before the pandemic started. The report’s findings found that simple initiatives, such as employers being aware of workload and work-life balance, have more flexibility in work hours and allow free time to fulfill personal obligations and for overall mental health, would make a major contribution to improving the well-being of employees.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to creating an open culture of mental health, says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellness at Mind, a UK-based mental health charity, “but communicate regularly and giving staff opportunities to talk about issues they face” are vital, adding that employers should also research staff to understand the causes of poor mental health and seek to reduce it.
“Only by raising awareness and prioritizing mental health in the workplace can we support each other to be as healthy, resilient, happy and productive as possible,” noted Shaun Williams, founder and CEO of Lime, in the study. .
Awakening Mental Health
If there is a silver lining to be drawn from the COVID crisis, it is more and people – from Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles until Goldman Sachs junior bankers– making the difficult decision to choose mental well-being over the rigors of career building.
In a 2020 study by 1,000 American workers, 80% said they would consider leaving their current position for a job more focused on employee mental health. This was followed by the highest “stop rates” ever recorded in April and May 2021, which some social scientists call the “Great layoff.”
More recently, a McKinsey Survey found that about one in three workers said returning to the office negatively impacted their mental health, with a pervasive workplace stigma surrounding mental or substance use disorders exacerbating the decline.
There is also a heavy economic toll. Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact with a estimated cost of $1 trillion per year to the global economy in lost productivity, according to a report from the World Health Organization. The WHO finds that for every dollar invested in more comprehensive treatment for common mental disorders, there is a $4 return in improved health and productivity.
In the Lime Group study, 44% of workers in the UK noted that low personal resilience impacted their ability to perform their jobs effectively, admitting that poor mental health had led to unproductive days, loss of concentration, errors and sick leave.
But some big companies are navigating the problem the old-fashioned way: using money. Credit Suisse would hand out once $20,000 “Lifestyle” Bonuses to maintain morale among staff who feel the pressure of heavy workload and remote working, while the investment bank Jefferies gave away Peloton bikes worth about $2,000.
Update, August 4, 2021: This post has been updated to include the quote from Emma Mamo of Mind.
This story was originally on Fortune.com