U.S. workers are not okay—and employers are usually the last to know

When managers ask employees how they’re doing, chances are they’re not getting the whole story. A new report found that about 84% of employees report that they rarely mean it every time they say they’re “fine” or “good.”

In fact, about two-thirds of employees have clinically measurable mental health symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to SilverCloud Health’s 2021 Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing Checkup, which surveyed over 2,000 employed U.S. adults in July 2021. 

Although only about 10% of workers reported having severe symptoms, over half, 55%, are experiencing mild to moderate distress. ​​“This is unavoidable—these symptoms are there, and they’re affecting us,” said Jorge Palacios, a psychologist and senior digital health scientist at SilverCloud.

Yet employees tend to hide these issues, especially at work. Often workers keep quiet about mental health struggles out of fear that just by admitting it, even to a colleague, word will get around, and their employers and managers will find out and penalize them, Palacios told Fortune. “That fear still still permeates,” he said.

That can be a problem for companies, particularly when it comes to employee productivity. Those experiencing any mental health symptoms report they are unproductive for about 3.25 hours during the typical workday, while those in severe mental distress can lose up to half an average workday. 

Mental health can also affect employee retention. Those dealing with even mild depression or anxiety are 3.4 times as likely to quit owing to mental health, the report found. And this affects all levels of employees; the survey found managers were actually more likely to quit than non-managers. 

And while the pandemic has been a major source of stress and anxiety for workers over the past 18 months, job-related stressors are another big cause—and one that’s not going away once COVID-19 cases are curbed. That’s especially true for younger employees, who cited frustration with their manager, job performance, and uncertainty around job loss as triggering mental health symptoms, the survey found.

These younger workers are also more likely to demand solutions, Palacios said. Millennial and Gen Z workers are more likely to seek out twofold solutions from employers: treatment and support for mental health, as well as policies that provide time off to deal with mental health issues without stigmatization. 

“It’d be shortsighted for employers not to recognize this, anticipate this, and put solutions in place,” Palacios said. Those solutions likely should be multipronged. He recommends employers practice empathy and openly acknowledge that it’s okay for employees to not always feel 100%. Additionally, providing access to mental health programs, including online therapy, as well as creating space at work for employees to have mental breaks can provide employees with coping measures and improve long-term mental health. 

Some companies are already taking steps to address employee mental health. This year, several major companies such as Nike, LinkedIn, Bumble, and Hootsuite gave their employees paid weeklong breaks to recharge and focus on their mental health. Many others have provided access to digital tools and counseling resources.

“Employers have an opportunity to measurably impact a fairly large portion of their employee population, and their bottom lines, by making mental health resources more accessible,” Palacios said.

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