- American workers are burnt out, with recent data suggesting that 2 in 5 employees quit a job to take care of their mental health.
- Although millions of people quit their jobs during the Great Resignation of 2021, not everyone has had the luxury.
- For employees and employers alike, mental health in the workplace should be a priority.
- Talking about your mental health with colleagues and supervisors can help reduce stigma and boost morale.
- When possible, taking a mental health day off from work can be helpful for navigating burnout.
Whether you’ve recently quit your job, returned to the office, or are continuing to work remotely, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with job burnout.
In May 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.5 million people quit their jobs in March, on par with the November 2021 record for most jobs quit during a single month. In 2021, an estimated 47.4 million Americans left their jobs.
A recent Pew Research poll cites low pay, no opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected as reasons for quitting — all of which may have an impact on mental health and contribute to burnout.
It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic affected mental health in the workforce. While many companies prioritize employee well-being, more work still needs to be done from the top down.
“Leaders really make a difference,” said Nancy Spangler, PhD, OTR/L, founder and president of Spangler Associates specializing in workplace health and resiliency strategies in Kansas City.
An April 2022 survey from JobSage shows that 28% of workers experienced burnout in the past year.
The survey sample included 2,048 employed Americans (54% identified as male, 45% as female) with an average age of 38. Employment status included:
- full-time: 63%
- part-time: 34%
- self-employed: 2%
More than 25% of workers (1 in 4) quit a job in the past 2 years for the sake of their mental well-being. Around 40% of workers (2 in 5) said their job negatively affected their mental health, a close second to financial stress (42%).
In the past year, more than 50% of workers said they faced job-related stress. The survey shows that factors contributing to burnout and resignation include feeling overworked (37%) and underpaid (31%). More than one-third of respondents experienced work-related mental health concerns such as:
In addition, 47% of workers want their company to commit to better work-life balance, with 42% reporting they need more time off and 41% reporting they want more flexibility.
According to the survey, nearly 40% of employees want their company to discuss mental health in the workplace, and 75% feel comfortable discussing mental health with colleagues.
Yet only 1 in 5 say they’re OK bringing up their mental health concerns with human resources.
By comparison, a Canadian survey from 2021 shows that leaders perceive themselves as being supportive of employee mental health, yet results from 1,600 employees showed that employees think leaders could do better.
Yet the stigma around mental health in the workplace may be fading, overall.
For instance, the JobSage survey found that 96% of respondents reported a positive experience after they talked to their managers about their mental health.
“Businesses are getting a better understanding of the role mental health plays in productivity and team performance,” said Rob Fazio, PhD, a managing partner at OnPoint Advising specializing in global leadership and organizational success in Philadelphia.
“If employers do not have initiatives and opportunities to get support for mental health, they will be at a disadvantage.”
Employees with mental health concerns should feel like their well-being is supported by their employers.
“Resilience is a shared responsibility,” Spangler said. “A company doesn’t have resilient people unless people take ownership of learning some micro-skills that help them bounce back.”
According to Spangler, psychologically safe and structured ways of communicating can help build trust in the workplace. Other strategies that can help foster workplace resilience include:
- employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- workplace psychologists
- leadership development training
- accommodations (i.e., the Job Accommodation Network)
“Train your managers to be empathetic, to use communication techniques like active listening, reframing, and summarizing things that get people talking,” Spangler said, adding that effective communication helps managers to understand mental health concerns.
Symptoms associated with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, stress-related disorders, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and others are not always recognizable.
“Many people in the workplace are working in ways that are misunderstood,” Spangler said. “Their actions could suggest they don’t care, they’re withdrawing, or they aren’t managing their emotions well.”
Spangler added that when a manager is able to understand the nature of certain mental health conditions and is trained to intervene earlier and ask the right questions, it opens the door to having a candid, empathic conversation with an employee about their performance.
A majority of survey respondents said they felt guilty about taking a mental health day. But taking a mental health day can be necessary self-care.
Here are a few tips to set you up for success:
Whether you need to see a doctor or therapist or simply rest your mind and body, a mental health day can be restorative and help prevent burnout.
- Remind yourself you deserve a day off.
- Ask your manager in advance, if possible, or simply call out that day.
- If you have time to plan ahead, tie up loose ends so you don’t return to a mountain of work.
- Set healthy boundaries: Try to refrain from checking work-related messages until you return to the office.
- Practice self-care by deciding what you need to do most (i.e., rest and relaxation, run errands, or leisure time).
- Consider whether you need additional time off.
Of course, not everyone has the ability to take a paid day off from work without potential repercussions. In those situations, it’s important to prioritize self-care when you’re not at work whenever you’re able to do so.
Prioritizing mental health in the workforce may help foster resilience and promote psychological well-being.
While companies of all sizes are paying attention to employee well-being, more work is still needed to reduce mental health stigma across all organizations.
If you’re dealing with mental health issues and don’t feel supported by your employer, it’s important to ensure you have the support you need outside of work — whether it’s family and friends or a therapist.
If possible, try to take a mental health day when you think you need it. A day off to recharge could help prevent burnout and may boost your morale and productivity when you return to work.
“The idea of work-life balance has become work-life integration,” Fazio said. “Our minds need a rest.”