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  • 28 November 2023
  • 3 months

Cross-National Analysis of Employee Mental Health

Emily Fournier

Marketing and Communications Manager

Earlier this summer, Workplace Options released a new interactive and proactive data tool called the Workplace Stress Index, allowing organizations to take a closer look at national and localized employee health and wellness trends tracked from April 2021 to May 2023. The tool, which measures both personal and work-related stress, such as family issues and burnout, is intended to help organizations make data-driven decisions about their benefits—specifically, their mental health benefits—as new research finds that the majority of workers (81 percent) now rank an employer’s commitment to mental health as the most important consideration when looking for a new job.

Highlighted below are some of the key insights provided by the index:

Global Findings

According to WPO’s data, the top four global workplace symptoms reported by employees are:

  1. Workplace stress (percentage of respondents: 71 percent)
  2. Anxiety and/or panic (27 percent)
  3. Low mood (13 percent)
  4. Difficulty concentrating (12 percent)

As for the catalysts behind these symptoms, WPO found that the top-reported work-related issues reported by employees are:

  1. Problems with daily work activities (percentage of respondents: 33 percent)
  2. Work-life balance challenges (26 percent)
  3. Tension or conflict with manager (18 percent)
  4. Job performance issues (18 percent)

Coming out of a global pandemic and into a treacherous economic and geopolitical climate, where tensions are high and the stakes even higher, global surveys have found that only about a third of employees are “thriving” in their wellbeing. They’re worried about their finances; they’re worried about their job security. Many of them are sick but worry about what seeking help or treatment might mean for their employability. And all this stress that they’re experiencing in their personal lives is seeping into their work lives—largely unannounced—leading to trouble in the workplace.

Regional Data: North America

US and Canada

According to the data compiled by WPO:

  • Approximately one-third of employees in the US and Canada struggle to keep up with daily work activities;
  • More than a quarter struggle with work-life imbalance;
  • Close to one in five report tension or conflict with managers; and
  • 18 percent experience job performance issues

In a recent study from Deloitte, the vast majority of US employees (91 percent) surveyed shared that they care deeply about their wellbeing; however, the majority of them (83 percent) also reported that they’ve encountered significant challenges when it comes to achieving their wellbeing goals. Of these challenges, more than three-quarters of all respondents cited the following concerns:

  • Personal finances
  • Work-life balance
  • Nutrition and physical fitness

When it comes to financial wellbeing, less than half of US employees say they are living “comfortably” on their current income, and a new Bank of America survey found that only 40 percent of employees feel “financially well”—a five-year low. Furthermore, research from PwC found that, in the past year, financial stress and money worries had the biggest impact on working Americans’ mental health, sleep, physical health, and even their relationships with their families, friends, and coworkers. Because of compounding issues like inflation and the rising costs of rents and sale prices, nearly half of workers find themselves experiencing “a lot” of stress and worry in the workplace, causing upwards of 70 percent of employees to experience difficulty concentrating at work, reduced quality of work, and burnout.

Workers in Canada are in a similar if not the exact same situation. According to findings from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, approximately 70 percent of employees are concerned about their psychological safety and wellbeing in the workplace, as work is found to be the number one source of stress in the country. Due to factors like heavy workloads, work-life imbalance, and a lack of attention paid toward employee health in the workplace, over a quarter of all Canadians report experiencing some form of mental health disorder in the past year, while more than half are at risk of one. This is especially true for younger generations (18-24 years old), of whom 40 percent are estimated to be at a mental health “breaking point.” Overall, more than a third of all short- and long-term disability claims in Canada are attributed to mental illness, a number that is expected to increase significantly in the coming years if things do not change for the better.

Mexico

And things aren’t much better in Mexico; in fact, they’re much worse.

According to the latest reports, more than 15 million Mexicans are living with employment-related stress—a figure equivalent to three in four employees. This is likely to be a direct result of the pandemic, as data registered by the OECD reveals that rates of depression and anxiety among the working population in Mexico increased by a staggering 25 and 35 percentage points, respectively—the highest global increase to be recorded for anxiety, and the second largest to be recorded for depression.

Given that Mexico has the longest working hours in the OECD—working up to 450 hours more than the average American each year, for less than one-fifth of the pay—it’s unsurprising that these mental health issues would carry into the workplace, resulting in higher rates of work-related stress.

That said, data collected by WPO reveals that Mexican employees report higher rates of all work-related issues compared with their American and Canadian counterparts, with:

  • 38 percent of respondents reporting issues with daily work activities;
  • 35 percent reporting work-life balance challenges;
  • 25 percent reporting tension or conflict with managers; and
  • 9 percent reporting job performance issues

Regional Data: South America

Chile

Because conversations about mental health and wellbeing are still taboo and heavily stigmatized in Chile, WPO’s data finds that Chilean workers report a higher average of work-related issues than the rest of their Latin American counterparts, as:

  • 42 percent report issues with daily work activities;
  • 26 percent report work-life balance challenges;
  • 26 percent report conflict or tension with managers; and
  • 21 percent report job performance issues

Further contextualizing these above-average rates of work-related issues, findings from PAHO reveal that mental health problems are the number one main cause of disability in Chile, as Chile touts the highest rates of depression in Latin America—especially among low-income groups, “suggesting that chronic depression or severe anxiety cause the inability to perform well.”

Moreover, in addition to mental health issues, findings from the ADP Research Institute indicate that stress impacts the work of around two-thirds of workers, as while 39 percent of Chilean employees say that their work is suffering due to poor mental health, 67 percent of them say so about stress. Augmenting the impacts of both stress and mental health issues is the fact that about half of Chileans don’t feel comfortable taking about mental health at work, as they don’t think their managers or colleagues are equipped to talk about mental health without judgment; while further augmenting the prevalence of work-related challenges like conflicts with supervisors and issues with daily work activities is the fact that less than a quarter of Chileans believe their employers are providing enough training, development, and career progression opportunities—which is leading to issues such as burnout.

Argentina

The same can be said for workers in Argentina, in which less than two in five believe that their employer offers satisfactory training, development, and career progression opportunities per ADP’s findings. Further adding to their propensity for burnout, ADP’s research also finds that workers in Latin America have the highest levels of job insecurity—a finding that is particularly burdensome for Argentinians in the midst of economic collapse (inflation in Argentina is third highest in the world), while additional research shows that almost seven in 10 Argentines are unhappy with their jobs—particularly with their earnings, as more than half believe they’re underpaid.

To make matters even worse, it is estimated that one in every two employees in Argentina suffers from mental illness, resulting in negative outcomes like poor concentration and poor performance at work, loss of enjoyment of everyday activities and hobbies, low mood, poor sleep, irritability, and more. Consequently, WPO’s research finds that:

  • 60 percent of Argentines struggle with daily work activities;
  • 13 percent experience challenges with work-life balance;
  • 13 percent report tension or conflict with managers; and
  • 7 percent report job performance issues

Regional Data: Europe

United Kingdom

Across the Atlantic, workers in the UK are experiencing similar issues, as more than three-quarters of employees in the UK are estimated to be experiencing moderate to high levels of stress, in which more than a third claim that the stress they’re experiencing at work is having a negative impact on their performance. Furthermore, it is estimated that around three in five employees are currently experiencing moderate to severe depression and anxiety at work—a fact that’s said to impact the productivity for almost one in five employees.

There are a number of reasons for these statistics. The first and most timely being the financial stress that many are experiencing due to the rising costs of living that have acutely impacted the United Kingdom, making it the leading cause of stress. According to the latest insights, a whopping 80 percent of UK employees believe that this financial stress is negatively impacting their work; unfortunately, less than a third feel comfortable disclosing their financial concerns to their employer.

On a similar note, more than half of European workers feel the same when it comes to discussing mental health concerns with their employers, researchers at ADP note. And according to their findings, this is in large part due to poor commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) that’s widespread among UK employers, as less than a third of employees agree that their organization has gotten better at gender pay equality and DEI over the last three years—the lowest percentage recorded in ADP’s study, while 17 percent claim that their organization has in fact gotten worse at gender pay and DEI—the highest percentage recorded.

As a result of these conditions (and more), WPO’s index tool reports that:

  • 36 percent of UK employees report issues with daily work activities;
  • 23 percent report challenges with work-life balance;
  • 18 percent report tension or conflict with managers; and
  • 18 percent report job performance issues.

Portugal

On every metric except for job performance, Portuguese workers fare even worse, as WPO’s findings reveal that:

  • 40 percent of Portuguese employees report issues with daily work activities;
  • 40 percent report challenges regarding work-life balance;
  • 21 percent report tension or conflict with managers; while
  • 14 percent report job performance issues

And judging by the latest reports from Eurofound, these numbers are not at all surprising. According to the foundation, Portugal was one of the harder-hit countries in the EU by the war in Ukraine and the subsequent financial crisis it inspired. For instance, in 2022, real wage growth was estimated to be in the negative (-2.6 percent), while inflation rates exceeded 8.3 percent. To make matters worse, CNN reports that rents in Lisbon have jumped 65 percent in the last five years—including a 37 percent jump in the last year alone—making it the world’s third-least financially viable city to live in. While the average rent for a one-bedroom flat in Lisbon sits at around 1,350 euros, research from Reuters finds that more than 50 percent of workers earn significantly less than that each month.

In addition to the obvious financial stress that this can create, such financial strain can also lead to work-life challenges, reductions in quality of life, and trouble in the workplace. As findings from Eurofound reveal, people in Portugal are considerably less optimistic than people in the EU on average (54 percent vs. 64 percent, respectively). In addition to this anxiety about the future, findings indicate that Portuguese workers do not take care of their health, do not feel in control of their lives, are too exhausted at the end of the day to fulfill household tasks or family responsibilities, and therefore are at one of the highest risks of burnout in the EU. Adding in the fact that Portugal touts the third-longest workweek in the OECD, and you have the perfect recipe for burnt out, stressed out, and maxed out employees.

France

According to ADP’s research, feelings of job insecurity are highest among the French—with nearly two in five workers reporting feeling insecure about their employment prospects. This has created a tense work environment in which employees feel they have to compete to outperform their peers, such as by turning in assignments way before the deadline, taking on extra assignments, working long hours, and putting their professional lives before their personal ones. As a result, research from the Ramsay Générale de Santé Corporate Foundation reveals that nearly nine in 10 French adults experience work-related stress—while over half experience extreme burnout.

In addition to these findings, the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA) also discovered that nearly half of French workers are under “extreme time pressure” or work overload, while roughly a quarter complain about a lack of cooperation or communication within their organization, a lack of autonomy, and vitriolic behaviors.

With these statistics in mind, it’s no surprise then that WPO’s research found that:

  • Nearly a third of French workers struggle with daily work activities;
  • Nearly a quarter struggle with work-life imbalance;
  • 20 percent report tension or conflict with managers; and
  • 18 percent experience job performance issues

Germany

Similar to Chile, ill mental health is estimated to be the second-most cited cause of incapacity for work. In fact, mental illness is responsible for almost half of all cases of early retirement and nearly 18 percent of all sick days. According to the latest studies, more than half of German employees report “impaired mental wellbeing,” while roughly a third are estimated to have a diagnosable mental illness.

As to what’s driving these outcomes, experts believe that work-related challenges are to blame. As researchers at ADP note, German employees experience the most frequent instances of work-related stress in all of Europe, at an average of 14 times per week. Such stress is estimated to increase workers’ risk of developing a mental illness by a whopping 50 percent. In addition to the acute mental and physical symptoms that workers may experience due to this stress, further adding to their susceptibility to mental illness are the social and psychological challenges they experience in the workplace, including lack of autonomy, long work hours, conflicts with peers and managers (the latter of which only 16 percent of German employees are satisfied with), a hostile work culture, mental health stigma, harassment, and discrimination, and difficulty disconnecting from work.

Serving as both a catalyst and consequence of these mental health outcomes, WPO’s research indicates that:

  • A third of German employees struggle with daily work activities;
  • 27 percent struggle with work-life imbalance;
  • 22 percent are experiencing tension or conflicts with managers; and
  • 19 percent are experiencing job performance issues

Belgium

On the other side of the border, things aren’t that much different in Belgium, as findings from WPO reveal that:

  • Nearly two in five employees report problems with daily work activities;
  • A quarter experience challenges related to work-life balance;
  • One in five report tension between themselves and their managers; and
  • 15 percent report issues with their job performance

According to research carried out by Gallup and Workhuman, Belgium is “among the worst in Europe for employee burnout” and workplace stress, as over 70 percent of workers claimed to have experienced “a lot” of stress on the previous day, while less than half said that they were “thriving.” Per a recent study commissioned by B-tonic, this is likely due to a mismatch or misalignment of employees’ values and the current culture of the workplace.

For instance, while the results of the study indicated that the pandemic increased Belgium’s awareness and consideration of mental health and wellbeing—with 21 percent of respondents saying they now “pay more attention to mental health”—it was also heavily implied that work is getting in the way of this newfound devotion to wellbeing, as:

  • 16 percent of respondents sleep worse than before;
  • 40 percent often or always have to put on a “brave face” at work;
  • A third suffer from “Sunday Scaries;” and
  • Nearly half claim that their employer doesn’t pay enough attention to their mental and physical wellbeing at work

As a consequence, it’s reported that while a quarter of workers in Belgium now say they wish to prioritize their health, only about one in five claim that their health is “very good.” Similarly, just about less than a quarter agree that they have the freedom to decide how to live their lives—indicating that a lack of autonomy both in and out of the workplace is causing a lot of distress to these workers.

Regional Data: Middle East and Africa

United Arab Emirates

In the UAE, the state of employee wellbeing is relatively good—but still could be better. According to research conducted by Gallup, more than half of UAE employees say they feel free to discuss their mental health issues with their managers and feel that their organization cares about their overall health—stats that no doubt contribute to the UAE having the second-highest employee wellbeing in the GCC region.

But while manager-employee relationships in the UAE are harmonious in terms of mental health and wellbeing, in the functional sense, there’s still a lot to be desired. According to additional findings from Gallup, less than half of UAE employees are satisfied with their organization’s leadership, citing a lack of manager support, unclear communication, and unreasonable time pressure—all of which are top causes of burnout. Consequently, nearly 40 percent of UAE employees experience work-related stress on a daily basis.

But insufficient management isn’t all that’s getting in the way of workers’ wellbeing: research shows that work-life imbalance, a lack of development opportunities, and financial stress all impede on UAE employees’ health. For instance, nearly three in five workers say that they don’t get enough quality time with friends and family because of their job, claiming that they find it hard to “switch off” from work outside of work hours.

Moreover, while 60 percent of UAE employees claim that career growth and compensation have the “greatest influence on job preference” (i.e., are “must-haves” in order for employers to attract and retain talent), nearly a third are less than satisfied with their compensation and benefits. This is particularly burdensome for a workforce whom—according to a new study from Mercer—spend at least 13 hours a month worrying about money matters at work. In fact, survey findings consistently show that the “vast majority of stressors [in the UAE] are rooted in employees’ finances.”

As a consequence, findings from WPO show that:

  • 35 percent of UAE employees have a hard time keeping up with daily work activities;
  • 28 percent struggle with work-life imbalance;
  • 16 percent are dealing with tension or conflict with managers; and
  • 15 percent struggle with job performance issues

South Africa

Per the Mental State of the World 2022 report, South Africa ranked at the bottom of the mental health wellbeing scale, out of 34 participating countries worldwide. Following the pandemic, researchers at the WHO determined that South Africans experienced a near-40 percent hike in anxiety and major depressive disorders, resulting in approximately one in six South Africans experiencing anxiety, depression, or other related mental health challenges, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

Due to this high level of mental distress, it is estimated that an average of 15 percent of South Africa’s workforce—over 6 million people—take a sick leave each day. This of course results in major productivity losses, as well as poorer quality of work, poor cohesion amongst teams, and an overall dysfunctional workplace.

According to the data collected by WPO:

  • Almost half of South African employees struggle to keep up with daily work activities;
  • Nearly a quarter struggle with work-life imbalance;
  • Nearly a quarter also report tension or conflict with managers; while
  • 15 percent experience job performance issues

How Holistic Wellbeing Programs Can Help

Ultimately, what each of these data points communicate is that, while each country has its strengths in terms of how well it supports its employees, the vast majority are not keeping up with employees’ changing needs and providing tailored solutions to best reduce their stress. Mental health support goes far beyond counseling services: employees, especially in today’s environment, need holistic support. This includes financial support, physical wellness support, caregiving support, work-life support, and support for personal and professional development.

As research from the ADP shows, employees are committed to bringing their whole selves to work; in return, they want their employers to support their whole selves, too. For employers looking to attract and retain talent in 2024, fulfilling this desire will be the only way to do so; and to achieve that requires the implementation of holistic wellbeing programs.

What do holistic wellbeing programs offer?

Far beyond telehealth and mental health services, holistic wellbeing programs can offer a range of services, including (but not limited) to:

  • One-on-one financial coaching (which secures an average 80 percent utilization rate, according to researchers from the American Psychological Association), which can cover:
    • Bankruptcy prevention
    • Budgeting
    • Financial fitness
    • Debt reduction and management
    • Financial planning
    • Long-term goal setting
  • Student assistance;
  • Mindfulness and awareness programs;
  • Life coaching, which can help employees:
    • Establish a personal vision for their future
    • Determine goals
    • Create and execute an action plan
    • Seek and sustain motivation
  • Caregiving support, including resources and referrals for:
    • Child/dependent care
    • Elder care
    • Family care
  • Legal support;
  • Wellness coaching, which can cover a variety of topics including:
    • Nutrition
    • Physical fitness
    • Stress management
    • Tobacco cessation
  • Manager assist; as well as leadership training;
  • Employee training;
  • Biometric health screenings; and
  • Organizational assessments

While each of these services are critical for supporting employees’ holistic needs, perhaps none are more important or more relevant than the comprehensive financial support that these wellbeing programs can offer. According to the ADP Research Institute’s report, less than half of employers in North America, Latin America, and Europe currently provide financial support to their staff—even though adequate compensation and flex-spending benefits (i.e., grocery shopping vouchers; PTO exchange) are some of the most sought-after perks that workers currently base their job decisions on. Although global inflation is expected to fall (albeit gradually) in 2024, the fallout from the panic and paranoia that the peak of inflation put people through will last for years to come. That said, for employers hoping to turn some of these downward mental health trends around, offering comprehensive financial support is a must.

And finally, even more critical for the management of employee health and wellbeing for the long-term is the allocation of ample opportunities for both personal and professional growth, and career progression. As the job market becomes ever-more competitive amidst a backdrop of growing job insecurity, the demand for learning and development opportunities has never been higher. Employees want to be assured that their current job is just one steppingstone down a long path towards a bright and sustainable career—not a dead end. To free workers of the anxiety and uncertainty about the future, their employers must invest in wellbeing programs that not only serve individuals as they are today, but the people they want to become tomorrow.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

This content is intended for general information only. It does not provide specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

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