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Workplace stress affects most workers despite employers’ efforts



Dive Brief:

  • The majority of workers in a recent survey said they have suffered from workplace-related stress this year, and 62% said they believe employers are not doing enough to combat stress at work, according to findings from recruitment agency Robert Walters Group.
  • Stability concerns, managerial pressure, lack of pay increases and heavier workloads were the most frequently cited triggers for workplace stress, per the survey. Symptoms occurred “very often” for more than one-third of the more than 2,500 respondents.
  • Asked who bears responsibility for managing workplace stress, 45% of employees said this task fell to senior leaders and HR, and 19% said it is the responsibility of line managers.

Dive Insight:

Mental health awareness has spread considerably within the HR space, and employer investment has followed, by some accounts.

For example, one recent analysis published by the National Safety Council and NORC at the University of Chicago found — using pre-pandemic estimates — that employers spent on average more than $15,000 annually on each employee experiencing a mental health issue.

The Robert Walters Group findings show that despite such investments, employers “may only be applying a band-aid,” Peter Milne, managing director of Robert Walters North America, said in a press release.

Previous research has indicated that work can be detrimental to employees’ mental health. A March survey from the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation showed that 1 in 3 employees said their job had a negative impact on their mental health. A Conference Board report found that workers linked their mental health challenges at times to workplace issues such as poor communication, poor work-life balance and time spent in meetings.

“Chronic exposure to stressful workplace conditions can lead to a variety of mental health conditions, including experiencing depression, anxiety, an inability to concentrate and emotional exhaustion,” NSC and NORC said in a statement accompanying the organizations’ research findings. “Adding this to stressful conditions in the home, and the problem can quickly grow.”

Employers can make simple interventions to mitigate stress, Milne said, such as ensuring manageable workloads and providing access to support including safe spaces and resources, but that tackling the problem requires participation across all levels of an organization.

“Workplace stress is something everyone in a business has a hand in creating — however it is down to senior leaders, HR and line management, depending on organization size and reporting lines, to set the tone for how it is handled,” he said.

Access to mental health resources remains spotty. Earlier this year, a Lyra Health survey found that while 86% of employees faced mental health challenges in 2022, only one-third said they received support from a therapist, psychologist or self-care resources. Barriers to care vary, with workers citing long wait times, lack of providers, high costs and lack of awareness of employer offerings.

Employers have sought a variety of methods to address cost barriers in particular. For example, HR technology vendor Phenom announced a $1,000 benefit for employees to put toward mental health care in 2022. Others have invested in offerings like additional free counseling sessions.

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