“Working yourself to death?” your friend teases.
In America, this is more than a hackneyed expression. We stifle yawns on our morning commute; we slump into cramped seats on our way home. In between, our mental health hemorrhages. Yes, we are accessories to our mental health crisis.
The average American is overworked, clocking in at 47 per hours per week. In the legal and medical professions, young lawyers and doctors surpass 100 hours per week. Half of salaried employers average 50 or more hours per week.
Striving for the next promotion, raise, and title, stress and mental health issues are ancillary. We mythologize stress; it is a necessary ingredient to scale the corporate ladder. Hard-charging professionals boast about sacrificing sleep for spreadsheets. Amazon, in an infamous New York Times op-ed, brags about its workaholic culture. Its company ethos: work hard, play less. And if you question its turbo-charged culture, you can find serenity in your next position.
Sensing sagging morale among bleary-eyed staffers, well-meaning employers place foosball tables and complimentary snacks in posh break rooms. Other employers offer unlimited vacation time. But amidst the workplace soirees and complimentary baseball tickets, there is a tacit understanding: discuss mental health issues at your own peril.
The on-campus dry cleaning and complimentary tai chi classes are well-received perks. But they obscure the overarching issue: mental health stressors are compromising the American workforce. The statistics are sobering. According to an Impact of Depression at Work Audit study, a quarter of American workers have a diagnosable mental health issue. Nearly 40 percent of employees take 10 days off per year as a result of a mental health condition.
Mental health, despite its prevalence, remains a taboo subject within the American workforce. In today’s competitive workforce, employees are loathe to divulge mental health tribulations. They — rightfully so — fear employer reprisals and stigmatization.
Employers, meanwhile, offer limited, if any, accommodations to employees. Corporate wellness programs target diet, not depression. In the pressurized job market, productivity remains the benchmark. Mental health connotes weakness and unreliability; it is a convenient excuse for disinterested malcontents. “If you can’t do the job, we will find someone who can,” a callous employer disparages a chastened employee battling mental health issues. The unspoken consensus on mental health: you are on your own.
Employers and employees perpetuate this vicious cycle. Employers, disparaging mental health, cycle through “unproductive” employees. These employees, mischaracterized as malingerers, are unceremoniously dismissed. The economic fallout: an estimated $23 billion.
Meanwhile, employees, fearful of retribution, conceal their mental health diagnosis. Masking depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, inconsistency marks their performance. Some days the employer earns glowing reviews for his dedication; other days he arrives two hours late for the shareholder meeting. Employers, without any knowledge of an employee’s mental health trials, react punitively to the perceived insubordination. The result: talented workers jettisoned from position to position.
Here’s the sad irony: Companies spend millions in employee welfare, from gleaming campuses to the latest software upgrades. But when it comes to actual employee welfare, there is a fundamental disconnect between mental health and company performance. Company performance encompasses both the latest NASDAQ report and employers’ emotional well-being. Over 23 million Americans are nodding in agreement.
Saad, L. (2014, August 29). The 40-Hour Workweek Is Actually Longer — by Seven Hours. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx.
Kantor, J. and Streitfeld, D. (2015, August 15). Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas In a Bruising Workforce. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html?_r=0.
Investopedia (2013, 10 July). The Causes and Costs of Absenteeism in the Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/investopedia/2013/07/10/the-causes-and-costs-of-absenteeism-in-the-workplace/#1d4ddb4b3bd3.
Witters, D., Liu, D. & Agrawal, S. (2013, July 24). Depression Costs U.S. Workforce $23 Billion in Absenteeism. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/163619/depression-costs-workplaces-billion-absenteeism.aspx.