Remote Workers Report Negative Mental Health Impacts – According to a May 2021 survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), only one in five employees reported that their employer has offered additional mental health services since the start of the pandemic–down from 35% last year. According to the survey, the number of employees who say they can talk openly about mental health with coworkers (56%) and supervisors (56%) is down from last year (65% and 62% respectively), too. These results imply that things may not be getting better. And this is a problem–for employees and their employers. Employees are struggling to get mental health care, and stigma is still a major issue in the workplace.
American Psychiatric Association’s Worrisome Findings
The APA conducted the online survey of 1,000 remote workers between March 26 and April 5, 2021. The majority of employees working from home say they experienced negative mental health impacts, including isolation, loneliness and difficulty getting away from work at the end of the day.
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- 54% of employees report their employer has become more accommodating to their mental health needs since the start of the pandemic while 15% said less and 31% didn’t know. However, only one in five said their employer has offered additional mental health services, down from 35% last year.
- When looking at how employers treat employees who may have mental health issues, 28% said their employer had become more supportive over the course of the pandemic; 33% said the same as before, and only 9% said less supportive (31% didn’t know).
“It’s not surprising that in light of the pandemic that mental health is on peoples’ and employers’ minds,” said APA President Vivian Pender, M.D. “What’s worrisome is that given this discussion, many people, particularly younger people, are still worried about retaliation if they take time off for mental health. This is a stigma in action, and it has to stop.”
Almost two-thirds of employees feel their employer offers sufficient mental health care resources and benefits (65%) and feel comfortable utilizing mental health services with their employer (64%).
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- More than four in 10 employees are concerned about retaliation if they seek mental health care or take time off for their mental health. Younger workers are most concerned. Nearly six in 10 (59%) of employees 18 to 29 years old and 54% of employees 30 to 44 years old are somewhat or very concerned about retaliation or being fired if they take time off for mental health needs, compared to 39% of 45 to 64-year-olds. Black and Hispanic employees are somewhat more concerned about retaliation than are whites.
- Compared to last year, slightly fewer employees report their employer offers mental health benefits, including primary care with sufficient mental health coverage (28%, down from 34%), mental health days (14%, down from 18%) and on-site mental health care (12%, down from 16%). About one in seven employees reports their employer offers mental health apps, such as Calm or Headspace, or mental health training for supervisors and managers.
- 60% of employees reported working at home at least a few days a month and nearly a third (32%) worked at home all the time (19% a few days a week; 9% a few days a month). While working from home has advantages and benefits, it also comes with drawbacks, including isolation and loneliness and difficulty getting away from work for personal time.
- Nearly two-thirds of people working from home feel isolated or lonely at least sometimes and 17% do all the time. More than two-thirds of employees who work from home at least part of the time report they have trouble getting away from work at the end of the day always (22%) or sometimes (45%). Younger adults (73% of 18 to 29-year-olds and 73% of 30 to 44-year-olds) were more likely to report feeling isolated or lonely working at home compared to older adults (48% of 45 to 64-year-olds).
How Companies Can Support Mental Health
Old recruiting practices no longer work, and employers are forced to use new strategies to broaden their talent pools and hiring practices to keep their heads above water. New online platforms called digital therapeutics should be a top consideration as employers review their benefits packages in the new workplace landscape, said Dennis Urbaniak, EVP, Digital Therapeutics at Orexo. They provide private, clinically proven mental health support for employees. Plus, they can offer tangible feedback on utilization, impact, and satisfaction that employers can use to make important decisions regarding benefit offerings moving forward.
“Employees can access these programs whenever and wherever they need it–at lunch, during a bus commute or after work–regardless of geographical location, workday flexibility or comfortability speaking about mental health issues,” Urbaniak explained. “As organizations remain remote or move toward hybrid work models, we anticipate that they’ll begin turning more and more toward technology to address these challenges for their employees. However, many employers may not understand the difference between digital health options, like apps, and true digital therapeutics, which offer unique and clinically proven benefits that are held to the same standards of efficacy, care, and oversight as traditional medical treatments.” Urbaniak added, “Furthermore, employers looking for digital mental health options for their employees are also likely inundated with too much selection—in fact, there are approximately 200 applications being built a day— making it difficult for employers to choose the best tools for their organization.”
Dr. Teralyn Sell, Psychotherapist and brain health expert, stressed the importance of workplace leadership focusing on the well-being of their employees: “Workplace leadership can play a crucial role in the overall well-being of their employees simply by paying attention to their behavior. Supporting employees taking breaks, leaving on time and using vacation time is important for productivity. An overworked employee is going to be less sharp and ultimately less productive. Allow for flexibility. Some antiquated ways of doing business are just not conducive to life in 2021. Often, the only thing that keeps flexibility in the workplace from happening are ideas that ‘that’s not the way we do it. If that is the case within your organization, really engage in some critical thinking about it. Perhaps you are missing some opportunities to increase the happiness of your employees by allowing that flexibility to work from home or adjust schedules to participate in their child’s after-school activities.”
“The poll shows us that working from home, while it kept us safe from Covid-19 and brought some benefits, also meant many Americans felt lonely and isolated,” said APA CEO and medical director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “As we shift back into our offices, or whatever alternatives are made available, I encourage business and organizational leaders to visit the APA Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, which has resources on ensuring employees’ mental well-being through Covid and beyond.”
For organizations and businesses seeking help in supporting the mental health of their workforce, APA Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health provides tools, resources, and information, and has recently issued toolkits and webinars on Covid-19, remote work, and more. The Center recently released NOTICE. TALK. ACT.® at Work, an e-learning training for managers on supporting employees’ mental health needs.