Employee Mental Health is a Global Issue

by Denis Storey
January 29, 2024 at 12:41 PM UTC

Workplace mental health issues persist globally with UK employees losing almost one day a week, while US workers remain unhappy.

Clinical relevance: Workplace mental health issues persist globally with UK employees losing almost one day a week, while US workers remain unhappy.

  1. In the UK, employees lose nearly one day per week due to mental and physical health issues, costing an estimated £138 billion annually.
  2. US workers, facing their own mental health struggles, report a third experiencing worsened mental health in the previous six months.
  3. A generational divide is evident, with younger UK workers experiencing higher levels of mental health concerns, and US Millennials reporting decreased engagement and attributing mental health challenges to heavy workloads and toxic environments.

It’s definitely a “good news, bad news” moment for mental health in the workplace in 2024.

In the United Kingdom, for example, research from Vitality – the life/health insurance giant – shows that “employees lose nearly one day per week (43.6 days annually) as a result of mental and physical health issues such as musculoskeletal conditions, depression, and poor sleep quality.”

As a result, those losses, added to the reduced productivity of the employees who do show up but remain preoccupied with health issues, totaled up to an estimated £138 billion – or $175 billion –  annually. Mental health complications hampered productivity the most, based on Vitality’s findings, led by depression, fatigue, and burnout.

“Our research clearly shows the impact of health and wellbeing on productivity in the UK, and the implications for the UK economy are concerning,” Vitality CEO Neville Koopowitz said in a press release.

U.S. Workers Struggle, Too

Meanwhile, across the pond, U.S. workers admit to their own set of mental health challenges.

The Conference Board, a nonprofit think tank, published research last year that showed that more than a third of U.S. workers felt that their mental health took a turn for the worse in the previous six months. And 37 percent of them admitted their “sense of belonging” had dropped off as well.

“This survey reveals that many workers are really struggling with their mental health. This could be due to a combination of factors both inside and outside of the workplace, but the fact remains that it can have an outsized impact on work performance,” The Conference Board Executive Vice President of Human Capital, Rebecca Ray explained.

A New Generational Divide

In the United Kingdom, the research reveals a stark divide between generations, with employees under 30 losing “an average of 59.7 days per year, whereas those over 50 lose an average of 36.3 days a year – a 64% difference.

As expected, the younger workers report generally better physical health and increased activity, but they also admit to “significantly higher levels of mental health concerns.”  The data for under 30s reveals they have a 17 percent higher risk of burnout and an almost 56 percent higher risk of fatigue

More youthful employees are also a whopping 224% more likely than their older counterparts to report depression. Of course, that could be a reporting issue since older generations are less likely to talk about it.

In the U.S., The Conference Board reports that “43 percent of Millennials say their level of engagement has decreased in the last six months, compared to 38 percent of Gen X and 34 percent of Baby Boomers.”

Additionally, half of Millennials say their workload hurts their mental health, compared to 48 percent of Gen X and 40 percent of Baby Boomers.

No Single Source of Stress

Speaking of disclosure, a plurality – 38 percent –  of U.S. employees still don’t feel comfortable bringing up their mental health with their manager –  that’s more than doubled from just last year.

And while the British research didn’t address the root causes of languishing mental health in the workplace, the U.S. study pointed to a pair of dominant factors, namely, heavier workloads, longer hours, and toxic environments. Other factors, according to the research, include:

  • Poor workplace communication – 42 percent.
  • Diminished work-life balance – 41 percent.
  • And time spent in meetings – 40 percent.

And the Good News?

Despite this dark cloud, things do appear to be improving – at least in some areas.

For example, the U.K. study showed signs of improvement since the end of the pandemic, such as lower levels of burn-out (27.1 percent lower) and job dissatisfaction (10.6 percent lower), while those fortunate enough to still work from home seem to be less likely to report finding it difficult to relax while away from work (43 percent lower).  

Finally, companies on both sides of the Atlantic appear to be making more of an effort to engage employees. And that’s where the real potential for change remains.

“Businesses must recognize the importance and impact of facilitating a healthy workplace, one that acknowledges employees’ mental and physical health needs,” Koopowitz added. “Action needs to be meaningful and informed, and employees need to feel that their wellbeing matters and be educated and encouraged to use the support available. If health at work is properly managed, business and the wider economy stand to gain significantly.”

Further Reading

Work Hours, Sleep Sufficiency, and Prevalence of Depression Among Full-Time Employees

The Economic Impact of Bipolar Disorder in an Employed Population From an Employer Perspective.

Emotion Regulation, Fear of COVID, and Quality of Life

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