Employees across North America and Europe are struggling with depression and anxiety. Here’s when it peaks at work, according to the largest study of its kind


SEPTEMBER 14, 2023

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 42% of employees globally have reported a decline in mental health. – Craig F. Walker – The Boston Globe – Getty Images

More than any other decade, the 2020s began with a focus on addressing the global crisis of declining mental health and its impact not only on our personal lives but also on the economy. Employee well-being has risen to prominence as employers realize its potential for high return on investment. Improved employee mental health leading to greater productivity has motivated more businesses to join the rallying cry. However, the focus on productivity alone could create even more mental health issues.

Research from Bain & Company showed that today’s tech-enabled work culture with its emphasis on productivity leads to high burnout. In an era of growing corporate social responsibility, perhaps it’s not naïve to expect more leaders to want to improve the mental health of their employees for reasons that go beyond the bottom line.

We conducted the largest observational study of its kind globally, analyzing over 150,000 anonymized conversations with 11,300 employees in 11 organizations across 60 countries over a period of 13 months. We found that many people are struggling with mental health challenges, often while at work.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 42% of employees globally have reported a decline in mental health. Employees in Europe and North America reported the highest average depression scores with 65% and 56% of employees, respectively, reporting symptoms of mild or more severe depression. If more than half of the workforce is feeling depression symptoms, more than just productivity is being impacted. When 75% of working people report having low-to-moderate energy levels on average throughout the day, society itself suffers.

My own startup was born out of my struggles with founder depression and the gap between the lived experience of mental health issues and the resources available. At the time, I felt alone and scared to discuss my thoughts with anyone. I needed to talk, but at the same time, was afraid of being judged. The need to talk through negative thoughts was not a weekly occurrence–it happened many times a day, sometimes at 3 a.m. Finding and connecting with a therapist was my long-term plan, but I also needed moment-to-moment support.

The study, which was shared at the World Economic Forum this year, validates my lived experience: 41% of mental health crises happen during working hours, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. At the start of the workday, 33% of employees globally report feeling “not okay,” this number kept going up throughout the workday, reaching its peak towards the end of the workday.

The number one reason people with moderate to severe depression or anxiety don’t seek help is time (40%), followed by not thinking it’s serious enough (32%), and feeling too embarrassed (29%). Sadly, 15% said they couldn’t get an appointment at a convenient time, which is not surprising in a survey of busy employees, and 11% said they tried but couldn’t get the right help. This is why organizational readiness–not a single program but a proactive approach and an entirely different attitude towards mental health–is needed.

Recognizing that employees can experience symptoms at any time of day–at work or outside of it–means employers need structural change to destigmatize mental health challenges throughout the organization. This could mean creating safe spaces, encouraging time to take breaks, and leading by example to illustrate an open and accepting culture when it comes to mental health struggles. Morning wellness reminders like pointing to the availability of Employee Assistance Programs, could boost the mere 7% of employees currently taking advantage of EAPs.

Companies should also embrace AI-led solutions. ChatGPT blew the doors wide open on the promise of AI at work. While AI could never replace human therapy or EAPs, it can help build resilience and alleviate the system. With employees needing help during such a range of times, and a global shortage of human therapists, AI-led solutions can help bridge the gaps so companies are always ready to address needs. AI can also determine who within an organization needs higher levels of support, including human resources staff, while still supporting people at scale. Additionally, research shows that people are more likely to open up to an anonymous chatbot than a manager or an HR colleague.

Organizational readiness requires reconsidering America’s infamous workaholic culture. Organizational readiness comes from engaging with employees, leveraging emerging technology-based solutions, and creating a culture where work-life balance isn’t just the norm, but a collective goal for employees at all levels to actively strive towards.

Author: Jo Aggarwal is the co-founder and CEO of Wysa – The opinions expressed in the commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the ourlets opinions and beliefs.

Courtesy/Source: This story was originally featured on Fortune.com