Employees, particularly younger workers, are feeling stressed and anxious at unprecedented levels—even as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic ebb.
But then again, that’s probably not a surprise given the turbulent economy, the Ukrainian war, the ongoing climate crisis, and waves of layoffs. These pressures have forced many workers to get serious about mental health. So much so, employees say it’s actually their top priority now.
Half of global knowledge workers (50%) are putting their mental health above all else, according to Oyster’s Employee Disillusionment Report released Thursday that’s based on a survey of more than 2,500 knowledge workers worldwide. It was a top priority for workers of all races and generations, but Black workers and younger Gen Z employees, in particular, are more prone to making good mental health a mandate.
Even amid the shifting job market, mental health is significantly more important to workers right now than even career advancement, according to the report. It proves a major sea change is underway in how workers think about their long-term career trajectory and resetting boundaries on work/life balance.
“In the last few years, an avalanche of global issues has impacted everyone on the planet,” Tony Jamous, Oyster’s co-founder and CEO, tells Fortune. “It is no wonder that we all feel afraid, disconnected,” he says, adding that’s made worse when workers go to work and face managers and leaders who want to make work even more stressful.
“Mental health is a necessary condition for career advancement,” Jamous says. “It's necessary because you want to be in a positive mental health to be able to look forward to career advancement.” You cannot move forward with your career when you’re experiencing shaky mental health, he adds.
That stress, anxiety, and burnout is leading to an employee engagement crisis, Oyster’s report finds. Over half of workers surveyed (54%) report their work and ability to focus at work has been affected by the tumultuous environment.
Employers aren’t doing themselves or their workers any favors when they reject options like flexible work or instill a culture of denial—one in which there are issues that are not acknowledged, Jamous says. “You end up with a level of disengagement and certainly career advancement becomes not a priority anymore and mental health becomes super high priority.”
It’s not just a few organizations that face this dilemma either; it’s a systemic issue, Jamous says. “The system we've designed is a system that is in pursuit of unlimited growth. It's in pursuit of maximizing…profit at the expense of people's wellbeing,” he says. It’s especially acute for younger employees entering the workforce, Jamous says.
But the current environment does create opportunities for savvy employers. More than two-thirds of workers say employers should provide mental health support for stress and anxiousness, according to Calm’s 2023 Workplace Mental Health Trends Report.
Adding mental health resources to the benefits roaster is key, but meaningful change goes beyond just perks, Jamous says. Flexible work arrangements and establishing trust in your employees are cornerstones to combating employee disengagement and potential burnout, he says.
While it might be easier to make workplace culture changes at smaller organizations—Jamous acknowledges it can be challenging for larger companies to pivot and scale new policies quickly—it is achievable.
“Building high-trusting teams, having clear goals and expectations, and having clear methods of collaboration are not only for small companies—the bigger you are, the more you can reap the benefits of them,” Jamous says.