The Impact of Work on Mental Health

We need to talk about employees’ mental health. More specifically, the major ways work affects it.

A new global study from The Workforce Institute found that 69% of employees say managers impact their mental health, which is a greater impact than doctors (51%) or therapists (41%), and even the same as the employee’s spouse or partner (69%).

We partnered with advisory board member Dan Schawbel and his firm, Workplace Intelligence, to survey 3,400 people across 10 countries, and our findings spotlight the critical role that our jobs, leadership, and — most significant of all — our managers play in supporting mental wellness at and even outside of work.

Key insights from our new report include:

  • More than 80% of employees say they would rather have good mental health than a high-paying job.
  • Two-thirds of employees would take a pay cut for a job that better supports their mental wellness — and 70% of managers said they would, too.
  • Work stress negatively impacts employees’ home life (71%), wellbeing (64%), and relationships (62%). 

If you find yourself extremely tired and worn out after work, you’re not alone. In our global study, 43% of employees said they are “often” or “always” exhausted, and 78% of employees say that stress negatively impacts their work performance.

Moreover, it’s not just what’s happening at work that’s affecting us, but also everything going on outside of our workplace (or home office) walls. The chronic anxiety that comes from working through one global crisis after another is wearing on employees. Being overwhelmed consumes human energy and it impacts retention, performance, innovation, and culture.

Mental Health and Management

Frontline employees aren’t the only ones feeling burned out. Even executives aren’t immune, as 40% of the C-suite say they will likely quit within the year because of work-related stress, according to our study. Managers, too, are more often stressed out than their team members and senior leadership (42% vs. 40% and 35%, respectively), and a quarter of managers surveyed say they are “often” or “always” feeling burned out.

These findings align with one of our 2023 Workplace Predictions forecasting a kind of “people-leader paradox,” in which middle management roles are becoming increasingly valuable to organizations at the same time these positions are becoming less valued and sought-after by many workers.

Being a middle manager is one of the hardest roles in the workplace today. Many workers simply no longer want to take on the added stress and strain of managing people. In 2023, capable and passionate managers will be in high demand, as organizations look to fill leadership vacancies amid rising disinterest in the role.

Working Toward Change

These findings solidify what many of us have likely been feeling firsthand for a while: work directly impacts our mental health. But that impact doesn’t have to be negative. Employers can be the anchor of stability for their people by giving them the support and resources they need.

When companies focus on doing right by their employees, by respecting and caring for them as individuals with unique needs, we might finally start to see a shift in the way work affects mental health — a positive shift.

How can we begin to do that as leaders? There are myriad ways, starting with simple actions and investments in our people that can compound and grow into large-scale change.

Check out our full report — Mental Health at Work: Managers and Money — for additional insights from the study and recommendations for building empathy, authenticity, active listening, and a growth mindset to create a greater sense of belonging, inclusion, and positive mental health in the workplace.