Only 63% of Women Report Feeling Mentally Healthy at Work — Here’s How Benefits Can Change That

Sponsored by MetLife

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June 17, 2024 at 3:1AM UTC

If you’ve been feeling increasingly stressed or burnt out at work, you are far from alone. Widespread societal changes and increased isolation due to the pandemic have affected the mental and social health of workers around the globe. And, according to MetLife’s 20th Annual Employee Benefit Trends Study, which surveyed U.S. employees, this concern rings particularly true for women — with female employees significantly less likely to say they feel mentally or socially healthy. As for why this is happening, we reached out to Missy Plohr-Memming, the Senior Vice President of Group Benefits National Account Sales at MetLife.

“Over the past two years, the effects of the pandemic have impacted many in the workplace. However, it’s clear that women are one of the groups hit the hardest, as many were quickly thrown into new roles like caregiving, teaching and working from home, and in turn, trying to balance these stressors along with their workload.” — Missy Plohr-Memming.

Specifically, the MetLife report found that:

  • Only 63% of women felt mentally healthy and only 65% said they felt socially healthy. 

  • Comparatively, 74% of male employees said they felt mentally healthy and 71% said they felt socially healthy.

And these numbers are even lower for Gen Z women (42% mentally healthy, 52% socially healthy), millennial (58% mentally healthy, 60% socially healthy) and Black women (60% mentally healthy).

Such social and mental disparities are stark — and could be why women are feeling less successful and motivated at work than their male counterparts. According to the MetLife study, women at work are significantly less likely to report feeling: 

  • Successful (61% vs. 74% male employees).

  • Motivated (58% vs. 68% male employees).

  • Productive (68% vs. 76% male employees).

  • Engaged (61% vs. 68% male employees).

With this decline and disparity in health, employees are increasingly looking to their employers to help with their mental, social and holistic wellbeing through benefits, policies and initiatives — and employees are taking action with targeted benefits and programs.

“Employees are increasingly recognizing the role their employer can play in improving their holistic wellbeing; as these heightened life stressors can easily translate into the workplace, it’s more important than ever that employers are supporting their employees with the resources they need to feel holistically well — inside and outside the office.”  —Missy Plohr-Memming.

Here, we’ll delve more into the current state of mental, social and holistic health in the workplace, and how employees like you can evaluate your employer benefit packages and offerings to find the benefits that will help improve your wellbeing in these three all-important areas. 

1. The important role of mental health and employer benefits in today's workplace.

Employee mental health has been on a downward trajectory for the past few years with stress, burnout and depression affecting more and more people. 

While employers do express concern about their employees (72% of employers say that stress and/or burnout are a challenge/concern for their organization), overall, employers believe that employee mental wellbeing has increased by seven percentage points since last year.

However, there appears to be a perception gap between employers and employees. In the past 12 months, the study found that 32% of female employees have needed to seek help for stress, burnout or mental health issues. This number is even higher for certain employee demographics, including: 

  • Gen Z women (56%).

  • Millennial women (46%).

  • Hispanic women (56%).

  • Black women (44%).

Keeping this in mind, what kind of benefits can employers offer, and should employees look for, to help improve their mental health? Well, to start, you should look for benefits that address some of the main underlying causes of mental stress. While some of the decline in employee mental health can be attributed to work pressures and the pandemic’s disruptions, according to the MetLife study, the top three reasons women report experiencing lower mental health are:

  1. Financial concerns (33%).

  2. External factors, including societal unrest, political polarization, macroeconomic conditions, climate change and other large-scale threats (33%).

  3. Balancing home and work life (31%).

As such, benefits that can help, include:

  • Programs, courses, planning resources and tools (e.g., mobile apps, personalized content and access to professional advisors) to help employees improve their finances, financial health and financial empowerment.

    • This type of offering is very popular, with employee interest in financial planning workshops and tools growing 27% over the past five years. In response, the percentage of employers offering such benefits has grown from 18% to 55% over the same five years.

  • Benefits and offers that focus on mental wellbeing, including:

    • Mental health days to encourage employees to take time off from work. (Plohr-Memming suggests reaching out to your manager or HR department to see if your paid time off policies account for mental health days.)

    • Mental wellness programs like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and therapy sessions (or reimbursement for therapy sessions).

      • Currently, 42% of women consider EAPs a ‘must have’ benefit. As Plohr-Memming tells us, EAPs may be one of the most powerful and flexible tools employers have to meet the full range of evolving employee needs. 

Targeted employer benefits can truly assist in improving the mental health of employees — which is much needed in the modern workplace.

2. How employer benefits can help improve social health in the workplace.

Another main requirement of supporting employees is promoting social health. The MetLife report revealed that workers who are socially healthy (which is defined as having satisfying interpersonal relationships) are almost three times as likely to be mentally healthy.

Not only this, but female employees see social health as a priority, with more than half (51%) of professional women considering a supportive and empathetic culture a must-have benefit in their workplace. Despite this, working women are significantly less likely to feel they have support in the workplace, with this demographic significantly less likely to agree that their manager has a high level of empathy with them (59% vs. 68% of male employees), and that there are individuals at work they consider friends or are like family to them (64% vs. 70% of male employees).

Overall, while social health is trending upward for most age cohorts, it is declining for Gen Z — possibly due, in part, to the widespread isolation of the last two years and a lack of feeling engaged and supported at work. As such, the MetLife study suggests that improving the social health of Gen Z holds the key to improving the overall mental health of the workforce. How to do so is not straightforward though, with 72% of employers sharing that they are struggling to maintain an open and supportive culture.

Here, employer-provided benefits and programs are again key to addressing this challenge and improving employee social health. The report suggests looking for the following social health benefits:

  • Initiatives that promote inclusive work cultures, such as management training, to foster a culture of supportive and empathetic managers.

    • To help make their work culture more supportive and inclusive, women can reach out to their manager or leadership to investigate what initiatives can be implemented. For example, one solution Plohr-Memming brings up is female-oriented career development opportunities and trainings.

  • Affinity groups and employee resource groups can help women support and empower one another. For instance, employers may have specific groups for Gen Z employees and groups for professional women, LGBTQ+ employees (like MetLife’s GLAM group), ERGs for specific cultural affinity groups and small groups that come together for more personalized support of one another (like MetLife’s Lean In Circles).

  • Social opportunities, including networking events, team events, themed events and family-friendly gatherings. 

3. Why employer benefits and awareness are imperative to improve employee holistic wellbeing.

Finally, in thinking about the needs of the whole employee, more employers have turned their attention to benefits that support holistic wellbeing — which incorporates physical, financial, mental and social health — both within and outside the workplace. This multidimensional view of wellness is now widely recognized as essential to employment relationships and effective business performance; in essence, it’s a “win-win goal,” with holistically healthy employees sharing that they are 74% more likely to be satisfied with their job and 53% more likely to be productive.

Holistically supporting the health and wellness of employees requires providing benefits that support the whole employee, which, in turn, involves recognizing and addressing the wellbeing of every individual and knowing that wellbeing means different things for different people. For example, different generations have different financial priorities, while in-office workers and manual laborers view mental and social health differently.

And, for women, a top driver of their holistic wellbeing is feeling like they’re contributing to purposeful work. “Female employees who feel a strong sense of purpose at work are: 2.6x more likely to be satisfied with the job they have now, nearly 2x more likely to intend to be working for their organization in 12 months’ time and 3x more likely to be holistically healthy,” states Plohr-Memming.

As such, organizations need to consider the unique needs of employees (which requires using different lenses, including racial, generational, pay level, family situation and job type) for their wellbeing strategies and benefit offerings to be equitable and inclusive.

While employees surveyed in the MetLife study say that their holistic health is increasing, still fewer than half of employees say they are holistically healthy. So, to further improve the holistic wellbeing of employees, we need benefits that truly matter to employees, benefits that support their full selves. For instance, women in the report ranked the following employer benefits within the top three types that are most likely to improve their overall wellbeing: 

  • 83% included paid and unpaid leave benefits (e.g., vacation and sick leave).

  • 69% included work-life management benefits/programs (e.g., flexible hours, time-management programs and financial allowance for home office set-up).

  • 59% included physical wellness benefits/programs (e.g., access to tele-medicine, gym membership and reimbursements for virtual exercise classes/home exercise equipment).

  • 52% included family/caregiver benefits/programs (e.g., maternity leave and subsidized fertility treatments).

  • 52% included financial wellness benefits/programs (e.g., day-to-day money management/budgeting, protection, debt counseling and retirement-specific planning programs).

It is clear that benefits that consider the full employee are imperative to improving their full wellbeing.

Next steps.

Although we have more to do to improve our mental, social and holistic health at work — and to address the disparities women face in the workforce — plenty of companies are already providing benefits to help address this need.

To find benefits that can help you thrive, “I highly recommend that working women reach out to their HR department to best understand the benefit offerings that are available to them, but also discuss what additional options they would like to see from their employer,” Plohr-Memming tells us.

And what about women who feel that their current benefits do not fully support their holistic wellbeing? In this case, Plohr-Memming says to “consider what benefits are a priority within their current needs, and connect with their HR department to see what of these priorities are available to them.” With open enrollment season fast approaching, it’s “a great time for working women to reevaluate their needs going into 2023,” she continues.

You can also take a look at the full MetLife report below, which discusses 20 years of change in employer-employee dynamics. And, if you’d like to hear more on this topic, check out this podcast with Missy.”

Fairygodboss is proud to partner with MetLife. Learn more about their innovative research here!

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