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How workplace mental health has changed for good

One silver lining to the giant cloud of COVID-19 is the normalisation of mental health issues at work. Pre-COVID, employers were starting to address mental health stigma and to recognise mental health support as part of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but in many cases, it was still a matter of lip service. In 2020, it became a business imperative.

As the lines between work and home became blurred in 2020 many people were forced to move to remote working at almost zero notice. Staying home trying to juggle work, schooling, and finances which were often hit during the pandemic meant stress levels reached new levels.

2021 has raised the stakes even higher as employers try to manage this continuously evolving dynamic. Many have started to realise they must address all aspects of employee wellbeing to avoid a decline in productivity and employee burnout and how business actions can contribute to mental health challenges at work.

Providing support for employees who become mentally ill is not enough; employers need to create mentally healthy environments that do not drive employees to depression, anxiety, and burnout. While we do not know when the pandemic may end, its repercussions may affect the nature of work for the long term.

A US study by Mind Share Partners found employee mental health challenges increased from 2019 to 2021 and that it was the young, minorities, and caregivers who struggled the most. Here are some of the figures:

The employee mental health experience in numbers:

Percentage who have resigned or been fired because of mental health:

  • Overall: 50% in 2021, 34% in 2019
  • Millennials: 68% in 2021, 50% in 2019
  • Gen Z: 81% in 2021, 75% in 2019

Percentage who believe company culture should support mental health:

  • 91% in 2021, 86% in 2019

Percentage who believe mental health is a DEI issue:

  • 54% in 2021, 41% in 2019

Percentage who had at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year:

  • 76% in 2021, 59% in 2019

While the impact of pandemic comes as no surprise, the overwhelming prevalence of mental health issues before COVID-19 does. What’s more, the 2019 study found similar levels of mental health challenges across all levels of seniority, and in 2021, C-level and executive respondents struggled more.

There were some hopeful aspects to the 2021 study’s findings. Almost two-thirds of respondents had talked to someone at work about their mental health - a significant rise from 2019 - but only 49 per cent said the experience was positive or got a supportive response, which was comparable to 2019.

Employers’ role in employee mental health

The effect of work on mental health is an increasingly hot topic, and the Mind Share study found that the attention was warranted. 84 per cent of respondents said at least one workplace factor had negatively impacted their mental health. For the young and minorities, it was even higher. The most common factor was work that was emotionally draining (e.g., overwhelming, stressful, or monotonous), which had worsened during the pandemic, closely followed by work-life balance.

Other factors worsened by pandemic were poor communication practices and a lack of connection or support from colleagues or management, presumably because of the challenges of remote work.

In other words, this is not a problem that will simply go away on its own regardless of vaccines. Workplace stress and related mental health implications are not a new phenomenon. It is just that the pandemic shone a light on the problem.

Companies invested more in mental health, and employees used mental health accommodations more but saw a lack of the one they desired most:  a more open culture around mental health (31 per cent).

However, progress is being made. 54 per cent believed their company prioritised mental health, up from 41 per cent in 2019. And those employers who support mental health are reaping the rewards, with workers who feel supported with their mental health 26 per cent less likely to report symptoms, less likely to underperform or miss work, more likely to stay at their company, and reporting more positive views of the company and leadership, including trusting the company and feeling proud to work there.

So, what role should organisations play in employee mental health? What types of support are employees asking for are key questions many HR professionals are constantly reviewing? Oracle partnered with Workplace Intelligence to survey 12,000 employees across 11 countries. Results revealed an interesting change in mindset and thinking, with 82 per cent of people believing robots can support mental health better than humans and 68 per cent would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work.

The key for employers will be to help their workforce to find balance, create boundaries between their work and personal time and get support when it all feels overwhelming.

What the Oracle survey also highlighted was the abilities of employees to adapt and the universal open-mindedness to innovative solutions and the potential use of technology and AI solutions to assist.

The pandemic launched an adoption of collaboration and video conferencing tools and the survey highlights employees are comfortable with the potential ways technology could support workplace stress and mental health issues.

Robots and mental health support: Why it can work

  • They offer a judgement free zone
  • They are unbiased
  • They provide quick answers to health questions

The role of employers, employees, and businesses in creating thriving communities by whatever methods go hand in hand. There is overwhelming evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive.

Awareness of mental health is increasing, but we still face a world where people with mental health problems face discrimination and can face challenges getting the help they need. Many people who experience distress try to keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of other people’s responses.

Fear of discrimination and feelings of shame are among the top reasons people give for not telling their colleagues about their mental health problems.

When we create workplace cultures where people can be themselves, it is easier for people to speak about mental health concerns without fear, and easier for them to reach out for help when they need it. Even so, the decision to disclose distress at work is not one people take lightly. It is vital that workplaces become environments where people feel safe to be themselves.

For more information try: How to support mental health at work or Oracle Workplace Intelligence Study

For more information from a trusted partner with over 35 years of experience in knowledge-led recruitment in the Electronics and High Technology arena, please contact us on 01582 450054 or email


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