Last Word: New Survey Is Clear – More and More Workers are Stressed and Depressed

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Dec 18, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

HR leaders and talent managers don’t usually think much about this, but your EAP — your Employee Assistance Program — can give you great insight into the issues and concerns troubling your employees.

Here’s a case in point: A number of years ago, I was executive editor of a newspaper in Hawaii. A new editor was brought in over me, and this guy’s bullying style did not mesh well with Hawaiian culture, or the people working for him in the newsroom.

About four months after this new editor started, someone from the local hospital that administered our EAP called the newspaper’s HR director and asked, “What’s going on in your newsroom? Something must be happening, because the number of people we’re seeing for stress-related issues has jumped 800 percent!

Yes, the data from that EAP program in Hawaii gave us some pretty sobering insights into the impact of the new editor’s ham-fisted management style. It didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, but it gave a lot of people throughout the organization some insight into just how bad the problem was — and the impact this one manager was having on his entire workforce.

More and more workers are stressed and depressed

This came to mind because a new survey from Workplace Options (they describe themselves as “the world’s leading provider of integrated employee well-being services”) came out this week, and it’s about global EAP data that gives some pretty interesting insight into things that are bothering workers today.

Workplace Options examined data encompassing from “a relatively stable population of more than 100,000 employees across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America,” and used that data to  evaluate “global trends in the use of its Employee Assistance Programs. The data represented all EAP inquiries made by this group from 2012-2014.”

Here’s what they found:

  • About four out of every 10 cases over the three year period were related to personal emotional health issues (42 percent in 2012; 38 percent in 2013; 42 percent in 2014).
  • The number of cases dealing with employee depression increased 58 percent between 2012 and 2014.
  • The number of cases dealing with employee anxiety increased 74 percent.
  • The number of cases dealing with employee stress increased 28 percent.
  • Combined, employee depression, stress and anxiety accounted for 55.2 percent of all emotional health cases in 2012 compared to 82.6 percent in 2014.

“Serious mental health issues can have a devastating effect on organizations around the world,” said Dean Debnam, CEO of Workplace Options, in a press release about the survey. “What this analysis means for businesses around the world is that if your employees’ emotional well-being wasn’t already on the top of your list of priorities, it needs to be.”

Why you need to pay attention to EAP data

What does this mean? It’s hard to know exactly, and the Workplace Options data doesn’t get very specific, but really, any good manager can probably tell you what they’re seeing.

You know what I mean — it’s about the stressful, changing nature of today’s workforce in the post-recession economy, with more and more people working less than they want to, with little or nothing in the way of raises or increased compensation, in a system that says it wants experience and skills but then seems to not want to pay for it.

My recommendation for any talent manager is that you should use your EAP data as an early warning system that you can use to get a fix on what is bothering your workforce before it reaches a critical level. It’s an underutilized resource that most managers (even those in HR) don’t give a lot of thought about, but it has really useful information that you should be paying attention to.

You owe it to yourself, and your workforce, to do this. Consider this advice a early Christmas present from me to you.

Of course, there’s more than troubling EAP data in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly wrap-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Is the term “work-life balance” failing to quantify employees work-life issues? Everybody seems to be jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to the term “work-life balance,” and The Atlantic joins in with it’s recent story about The Failure of the Phrase “Work-Life Balance.” It says that, ” ‘Balance’ is a luxury that few will ever attain. There needs to be a way to talk about this problem that captures why it matters for everyone.”
  • Despite growing legalization, employers still won’t tolerate marijuana use. A SHRM survey released this week found that despite the growing wave of state’s legalizing marijuana use (the District of Columbia and 23 states, with more to come), some “82 percent of respondents whose organizations have operations in states where both recreational and medical use are legal said they have zero tolerance for use while working — marijuana use is not permitted for any reason.
  • New York City wants to jail executives at companies that don’t use freelance contracts. According to Crain’s New York Business, “The City Council is moving to require employers to provide signed contracts to freelancers they hire—and jail them if they don’t pay. Councilman Brad Lander …  introduced the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which would have the Department of Consumer Affairs enforce new rules for using independent contractors. Freelance work valued at more than $200 would require a written contract with a set payment deadline. The department would be able to slap employers with double damages for failing to provide and live up to contracts. “
  • Chicago police head sent packing with just one month’s pay. People can’t believe what executives get paid when they depart, even in public sector jobs, and that’s why this is so surprising. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent his $260,044-a-year Police Supt. Garry McCarthy packing with just one month’s salary — roughly $21,670. … The $21,670 in exit pay given to McCarthy pales by comparison to the $291,662 golden parachute offered to former Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. Brizard had been one of Emanuel’s showcase hires. In 2012, he resigned by mutual agreement after just 17 months on the job after angering the mayor by going on vacation in the run-up to the 2012 teachers strike and by falling short as a manager. The mayor’s office could not explain the disparate treatment for McCarthy, who was hailed as a conquering hero for his frontline leadership during street demonstrations tied to the 2012 NATO Summit.”
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.