Stressed call center employee looking anxious while working at her computer.

A Pulse Check on Mental Health in the Workplace

A workplace with a healthy culture around mental health can make employees happy and increase productivity. Mental Health Awareness Month is a good time to check if your company is meeting your employees’ mental health needs.
Adele Spallone
Adele Spallone, Head of Clinical Operations for Workers’ Compensation and Group Benefits at The Hartford
Most people experience mental health challenges at some point in their lives, so the way their employers manage and prepare for those moments matters. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), employees who are less comfortable discussing mental health at work are more likely to report both burnout and poor mental health because of work.1
Not only does that discomfort impact workers, it impacts the workplace as well. The Hartford’s Future of Benefits Study found that 57% of U.S. workers feel their mental health at least sometimes negatively impacts their productivity at work.2 Employers across all industries can benefit from a pulse check to ensure they are prioritizing mental wellness effectively.

Which Workplaces Are Most At-Risk?

Mental health issues can impact employees at all salary levels and in all types of work. High stress jobs are likely to exacerbate mental health challenges. In fact, over a third of employees report that their mental health has suffered because of demands at work.1
But which employees are feeling the stress? A recent study by the Occupational Information Network, or O-NET, ranked the most stressed-out occupations in the U.S. The top 10 were workers who had a variety of educational backgrounds and salary levels. The most stressed, according to the survey, were urologists, making a median salary of $208,000. Phone operators came in at the number five spot, making a median salary of $37,630.3
Half of the top 10 spots were taken by patient-facing health care workers, such as acute care nurses, anesthesiologist assistants, OBGYNs and nurse anesthetists. Like urologists, these professions ranked their stress levels at rates of 96 or above out of 100. The rest of the list included film editors, judges and magistrates, retail supervisors and public safety telecommunicators.3
The common denominator, according to O-NET, is occupations that require accepting criticism and dealing calmly with high-stress situations. But that descriptor can apply to almost any job, so employers can easily see how any type of work can have an impact on their workers’ mental health.

Employee Stress and Employer Response: Is It Enough?

As rates of stress and mental health challenges increase, employees are demanding that their employers offer proactive solutions to help address their needs.
“It's very important that employers understand what they need to do to foster empathy and keep employees engaged and productive at work,” says Adele Spallone, head of clinical operations for Workers’ Compensation and Group Benefits at The Hartford. “If employers want their employees to be happy, healthy and productive at work, they need to pay attention to that cultural shift.”
The increasing toll of stress at work on mental health, and in turn on productivity, is a useful data point for companies. In fact, according to The Hartford’s Future of Benefits study, 86% of employers believe they offer flexibility for their employees to get the mental health help they need. The same percentage of employers believe they have an open and inclusive environment that encourages conversations about mental health.1
But do their employees agree? Not quite - only 57% of U.S. workers feel they have the flexibility in their schedule to get mental health help. Even fewer – 52%, feel their company has an open and inclusive environment that encourages dialogue about mental health.

What More Can Employers Do?

Supporting employee mental wellness is about more than checking off daily tasks and interacting with colleagues. It must be a top-down, intentional effort on behalf of the whole company.
“It’s very important that employers understand what they need to do to help keep employees content enough to be productive at work,” says Spallone. “Employers have the opportunity to understand the level of burnout their employees face.”
Here are a few ways employers can start to support their workers’ mental wellness:
  1. Focus on ending the stigma. Create an open and inclusive culture around mental wellness to ensure employees are comfortable taking steps to prevent stress, burnout or mental illness from impacting their work and personal lives.
    “Stigma is a huge challenge in the space of mental health or mental illness,” says Anabel Cloutier-Perez, behavioral health unit clinic manager at The Hartford. “It's a barrier for people to access care and treatment, and it's a huge focus for us to help people understand that mental illnesses are normal and that they should seek out treatment to improve their mental health.”
  2. Invest in proper care and training. Four out of five employees agree that mental health and well-being training could help contribute to a positive workplace culture. Even more employees (nine out of 10) agree that mental health care coverage is important for the same reason.1 Partnering with an employee benefits carrier that can provide the right insurance coverages can help keep employees happy, healthy and productive at work. 
  3. Tap into nonprofit resources. Nonprofits like NAMI o Active Minds are a wealth of knowledge. They offer many resources for employers who may not know where to start or who want to make a continued commitment to the mental wellness of their employees.
Your workers’ mental wellness is worth your intentional effort. Learn how to make mental health a priority and create a stigma-free workplace with our mental health resources for employers.
1 The 2024 NAMI Workplace Mental Health Poll. National Alliance on Mental Illness, viewed 2024.
2 Future of Benefits 2024, The Hartford, viewed 2024.
3 Occupational Information Network, viewed 2024.
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