The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the professional and personal lives of millions of U.S. employees, causing a significant portion to seek help for their mental health. According to a new report from MetLife’s 18th annual U.S. Employee Benefits Trends Study, Gen Z employees were three times more likely than all other employees to have sought professional help for stress, burnout or other mental health reasons since the beginning of the pandemic.
Contributing to workers’ mental health concerns is virtual fatigue, with work and personal lives often reduced to screen-to-screen interactions each day. Nearly four in 10 workers say reduced in-person interaction with friends, family and co-workers has negatively affected their mental health, and more than half of millennials (56 percent) feel this way. Additionally, 34 percent of employees say not being able to connect with co-workers in person as much as they used to is a top source of stress and anxiety – disproportionally impacting Gen Z, with almost half (47 percent) saying they feel the same way.
“Employees have faced unprecedented challenges in their professional and personal lives, which can directly impact one’s mental health and total well-being,” said Susan Podlogar, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, MetLife. “While these issues are magnified in this time of crisis, there are long-term lessons to be learned when it comes to addressing the mental health of today’s workforce. Organizations can help accelerate breaking down barriers to access and reduce stigmas of seeking help and provide programs and benefits to support overall well-being with an emphasis on mental health. Proactively addressing these actions contributes to building employee resiliency and, ultimately, strengthens our ability to benefit our customers and all stakeholders we have the privilege to serve.”
Stigmas and barriers block employees from seeking help
The study found that although roughly one-third of employees say they do not have good mental health in the wake of the pandemic, just one in 12 workers have sought help. Employees who have not sought support cite several reasons. For one, 37 percent of employees feel there is a stigma associated with seeking mental health support, with almost one in 10 saying they would worry about discrimination by managers and colleagues.
Younger employees (48 percent), as well as Hispanic (47 percent) and Black (46 percent) employees, are most likely to perceive a stigma with asking for help from their employer, which prevents them from seeking assistance for their mental health challenges.
“Employers are being called upon to not only understand and empathize with the mounting challenges being navigated by their employees right now, but to also provide them with real solutions that will alleviate those burdens.” said Todd Katz, executive vice president, Group Benefits, MetLife. “With open enrollment season approaching, now is the opportune time for employers to reassess their benefit offerings and round them out with holistic wellness programs – such as easily accessible mental health resources – particularly as many employees will be working in a virtual environment for many months to come.”
Resilient employees have better mental health and are more productive and engaged
Employers looking to help improve their employees’ mental health can start by working with them to improve their resiliency – a huge driver of wellness, productivity and engagement, the report found. In fact, the most resilient employees are almost twice as likely to be highly productive and engaged, and three times more likely to be holistically well. Specifically, employees point to wellness programs (51 percent), mental health coverage (50 percent), relaxation initiatives (48 percent), employee assistance programs (EAPs) (47 percent) and stress management programs (45 percent) as resilience-drivers.
Another way to address mental health is to recognize a key stressor: finances. Employees with good financial health are twice as likely to report having good mental health than those with poor financial health (83 percent versus 37 percent, respectively). The study found 70 percent of employees identify a financial reason for their stress, including long-term savings (47 percent), medical and other unexpected expenses (46 percent), and stock market volatility (46 percent).
“Financial factors are taking a serious toll on employees’ mental health in the wake of the pandemic –it’s critical at this inflection point that employers address these growing concerns,” Katz said. “Benefits that help employees with their financial health are proven to be beneficial for the majority of employees who use them, leaving them feeling both more satisfied with their jobs and happier at work.”
“Supporting employees’ mental well-being is integral to building a resilient workforce,” Podlogar said. “Resilience among workers and organizations will be critical for navigating through the pandemic and thriving in the long term.”
MetLife’s 18th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS) has been updated with a new Mental Health Deep Dive. This study was conducted in July 2020 and includes two surveys: an employer survey consisting of 1,000 benefits decision makers and influencers at companies with at least two employees, and an employee survey consisting of 2,000 interviews with full-time employees, aged 21 and over, at companies with at least two employees. All studies were fielded by Rainmakers CSI – an international strategy, insight and planning consultancy.