Mental Wellbeing of American Workers

Our recent research using our proprietary Workplace Mental Wellbeing Audit has revealed that American workers are struggling with stress, depression and are in need of more employer support.

Key findings
  • Half (55%) of American workers struggled with their mental health in the last year
  • But 56% felt guilty for taking time off for their mental wellbeing
  • One in five Americans deem their job as ‘very stressful’
  • Female workers nearly twice as likely to experience anxiety at work compared to men (31% vs. 18%)
  • Our findings reveal that urgent action by employers is needed, as 37% feel inadequately supported
Experiences of poor mental health

One in three workers (32%) experienced stress in the last year whilst almost a quarter (24%) have experienced anxiety. One in five (18%) have felt low, 16% have experienced exhaustion or burnout, and 14% have experienced depression.

Despite this, over half (56%) of those who experienced depression and 65% of those who experienced exhaustion or burnout didn’t take any time off work to rest and recover.

Time off for mental health? No way!

Workers are more likely to take leave due to physical health problems than mental health. Indeed, 57% of workers who experienced a physical health issue in the last 12 months took time off, compared to only 46% who took leave due to a mental health problem.

Furthermore, women are less likely to take time off for both physical and mental health issues when compared to men. 53% of men who experienced a mental health issue this year took time off, compared to only 39% of women. The same is true of physical. 64% of men who experienced a physical health issue took time off, this compares to only 50% of women.

Stigma stands in the way, and women feel the impact

Unfortunately, more than a quarter (26%) of Americans who didn’t take time off for their mental health didn’t do so because they feel mental health is not a valid reason to take time off . Meanwhile, one in three women (37%) don’t take leave simply because they don’t want to disclose their struggle. This compares to only 27% of men.

Top reasons for not taking time off include:

  • It wasn’t bad enough for me to need to take a day of work (37%)
  • I just wanted to keep it to myself (32%)
  • I don’t think it’s a valid reason to take time off work (26%)
  • I didn’t want to ask for time off (20%)
  • I had too much on at work to take time off for this (19%)
Guilt surrounding mental health

Even those who did take time off for their mental wellbeing felt internalised stigma. More than half (56%) felt guilty for taking leave and 52% felt the pressure to come back to work too early. Men are feeling this pressure more than women with 58% of male workers returning to work before they felt fully recovered, compared to 44% of female workers.

Moreover, nearly half (46%) of employees who took time off for their mental health felt they had to lie about the reason – they told their employer the time was for their physical health to avoid disclosing the real reason. Women are 11% more likely to do this than men (35% vs 27%).

Employers need to act on mental health

Worryingly, 18% of Americans didn’t tell anyone at work about their mental health problems because they thought it could jeopardize their career. This figure was higher among women (21%), than men (16%).

Nearly a quarter (22%) of all workers who struggled with their mental health didn’t tell anyone at work because they simply didn’t think it was appropriate to discuss at work. This is despite mental health impacting work performance: 70% of those who have experienced depression and 68% of those who have experienced exhaustion or burnout say it has had a negative impact on their work.

Taking it seriously and wellbeing initiatives

The insights suggest that employers need to take more responsibility. Nearly half (49%) of Americans don’t think their employer takes the mental health and wellbeing of employees seriously.

Meanwhile, more than one in three (37%) don’t feel their employer is currently doing enough to support mental wellbeing, and over a quarter (27%) say their employer doesn’t offer them anything to improve employee wellbeing.

The most common initiatives employers are offering are employee assistance programmes (24%), and remote working (22%).

Most common initiatives:

  1. Employee assistance programme (24%)
  2. Remote/ home working (22%)
  3. Provide space for people to take breaks (19%)
  4. Flexible working hours (18%)
  5. Access to a counsellor (17%)
  6. Provide information about mental health and techniques to improve wellbeing (14%)
  7. Exercise/ recreational classes at lunch or after work (11%)
  8. Mandatory breaks (11%)
  9. Duvet days (11%)
  10. Mental health first aiders (9%)

Three quarters (76%) of those with flexible working hours say this has improved their mental wellbeing, and 83% say the same about remote working.

Currently, only 18% of American employers provide flexible working hours. Moreover, working from home wasn’t permitted for 47% of Americans before the pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19 and working from home

Despite the lack of support year-round, overall, employees are impressed by how their employer has handled the pandemic, with 78% of employees saying their employer has been supportive towards them during this time. Less than one in five (18%) feel they have not.

Working from home during the pandemic has also been a positive for many workers, and 59% now have a better work-life balance as a result.

Of those currently working from home (which is 68% of all workers), the vast majority (87%) would like this to continue when the coronavirus lockdown is over. Almost half (46%) want to work from home full time, 28% would like to take a few days a week and 13% less often

Men have felt the negative impacts of the change more than women, however, with 47% of men feeling isolated as a result of working from home (compared to 41% of women), and 44% of male workers find it difficult to draw the line between work and rest (vs. 38% among women).

Giulia Prati, Vice President Research at Opinium US: “This data reveals how far we need to go to tackle mental wellbeing in our workplaces. Despite conversations on mental health increasing in recent years, it is clearly taking longer to infiltrate work practices and behaviour. That 65% of those who experienced exhaustion or burnout didn’t take time off to recover this year, is extraordinary. There is clearly an abundance of internalised stigma that needs to be addressed, and workers want and need employers need to do more. There is some good news, however. Workers are overall impressed by how their employers have adapted and promoted wellbeing during the pandemic. As health becomes a priority, workplaces should take this time to review its initiatives and retain a focus on mental as well as physical health.”

If you’re interested in understanding how our workplace mental wellbeing audit can help improve mental wellbeing in your organisation, then please email, our employee engagement team would love to chat!

Sample details: Opinium Research carried out an online survey of 1,006 US workers aged 18+ from June 25th to July 6th 2020. Results have been weighted to representative criteria.