Top Workplace Trend Number 6

Top Ten Work Trends Quarterly Updates

A diverse group of SIOP members are serving as Trend Champions for the people-related work trends that SIOP members collaboratively predicted to be the most impactful in 2023. Each Trend Champion has expertise in and professional passion for their trend subject. SIOP appreciates their service to the profession in providing quarterly updates on their chosen topics.

Find the full list of topics and links to the other Top 10 Work Trends here

Trend #6: Reshaping Work to Address Employee’s Mental Health

2023 4th Quarter Update

Across the board, organizations are recognizing that wellbeing is a broad, multi-faceted construct (e.g., Brassey et al., 2023) with significant benefits for organizations (e.g., improved retention; Khan, 2023), which some SIOP members recently argued ought to be viewed as the ultimate criterion in our field (Tay et al., 2023). Brassey and colleagues report results of a 30-country study of holistic health (physical, mental, social, and spiritual) and burnout which broadly find people are fairing well. Mindshare also released a report (2023) on the updated state of mental health and wellbeing of employees, with findings summarized by Wong & Greenwood (2023). Three major themes have emerged in these reports and the popular discourse around this topic: culture changes, provision of benefits, and the impact of macro-level issues on employee mental health.

Changing Culture

Across these studies, workplace culture is highlighted as a key predictor of employee mental health (Romsey, 2023). Some (Valez, 2023) provide suggestions to small business to improve worker mental health that entirely focus on culture shifts. Others (Mikhail, 2023) identify improving psychological safety, which was an explicit theme identified by the Mindshare report. 

One empirical study (Dextras-Gauthier et al., 2023) suggests that managers’ psychological health and distress at work impact leadership styles and group culture. Similarly, another study (Willett et al., 2023) highlights the roles of leadership communication on workplace culture and ultimately employee wellbeing and engagement. There was also a recent annual review on psychological safety (Edmondson & Bransby, 2023)

Providing Benefits

Some benefits that have explicitly been identified in the popular press improving employee mental health include workplace mental health coaching (Stahl, 2023), mental health days (O’Connor, 2023), employee engagement software (Baltic Times, 2023). A report by Gallup examines other specific benefits including limiting telepressure, four-day work weeks, and mental health counseling and screening (Nicola, 2023). Of course, these benefits also include broad employee assistance programs (EAPS; Howell, 2023). And although it’s not a benefit, there is recognition that organizations must provide reasonable accommodations to workers with mental illness (including anxiety and depression) or face significant lawsuits (e.g., Simpson, 2023).

A recent paper heighted lessons learned from a case study about implementing workplace health programs (Manner et al., 2023). A recent study (Attridge et al., 2023) examined the effects of mental health coaching on depression and other workplace outcomes. Another recent study by a team of SIOP members (Barber, Santuzzi, & Hu, 2023) examined the perceptions of norms and policies around telework and their perceived efficacy. A systematic review of the literature on four-day work weeks was recently published (Campbell, 2023), as was a systematic review of workplace mental health screenings (Strudwick et al., 2023). A recent study (Jessiman-Perreault et al., 2023) was also published on the provision of accommodations for workers with mental and cognitive disabilities highlighting that their needs were more likely to be unmet if they were women or in women-dominant occupations

Macro-level Issues

There has also been attention paid to the impact of global financial crises on worker mental health (Gibson et al., 2023). Others have also highlighted the impact of global conflicts on employee mental health (Wolfe, 2023). A recent paper examines this exact phenomenon which the authors identify as “the nexus between macro-level ‘turbulence’ and the worker experience’ (Prouska et al., 2023, p.1)

A recent systematic review explored financial crises on mental health (Talamonti et al., 2023). A team of SIOP members (Romick, Watson, Oney, & Clark, 2023) recently presented a poster examining the impact of coworker and supervisor support and inclusive climate on outcomes in the broader context of COVID-19 and the social justice movements of 2020/2021. Another team of SIOP members published a paper on sever uncertainty induced during the COVID-19 pandemic (LeNoble, Naranjo, Shoss, & Horan, 2023) and SIOP Fellow Mindy Shoss was recently featured on the Healthy Work podcast to discuss work precarity and presenteeism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2023 3rd Quarter Update

Once again, employee mental health and wellbeing is a major concern for employers (Mason, 2023; Schiavo, 2023). Internationally, worker mental health is suffering (e.g.,Aggarwal, 2023; WION, 2023 a; WION, 2023 b; Young, 2023). Some major themes this quarter that have emerged are the role of AI in employee mental health, employer’s legal responsibilities for employee mental health, and the work-home interface. Tay and colleagues (2023) recently published a paper in The Journal of Business and Psychology (JBP) arguing for wellbeing to be considered the ultimate criterion in our field.

Focusing first on the role of artificial intelligence, some in the popular press highlight the negative impacts of AI on employee mental health (Ruiz, 2023). Electronic monitoring, in particular, has been the subject of backlash (Lerner, 2023). On the other hand, others suggest AI may give employees more control over their mental health and workplaces (Robinson, 2023). Keating et al. (2023) published an integrative review in The Journal of Applied Psychology (JAP) focusing on how computer-mediated work may impact negative work behaviors, in part due to unaccountability of perpetrators.  Tang and colleagues (2023) also recently published a paper in JAP examining how interacting with AI impacts employees at work and at home.

Secondly, there have been multiple lawsuits recently regarding organizations’ failure to adequately address or accommodate employees’ mental health issues. For example, the EEOC recently sued an organization for race and disability discrimination for denying a biracial woman who had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety a promotion and ultimately firing her (EEOC, 2023). Similarly, a former employee of an Illinois rail system is allowed to sue his former employer for firing him and failing to accommodate his depression under the Americans with Disabilities Act (Love, 2023). McChesney & Foster (2023) recently published a paper on mental illness disclosure on LinkedIn impacting applicant attractiveness.

Last, attention has been paid in the popular press this quarter to the work-nonwork interface. For example, one article highlights that “nearly 75% of parents miss work to address kids’ mental health or academic performance” (Popke, 2023). Others, focus on ensuring that remote workers are able to access their mental health benefits (Miller, 2023). Another article that focuses on caring for new employees’ mental health highlights the key role of promoting work-life balance (Wong et al., 2023). Gabriel and colleagues (2023) published a recent manuscript in JAP  focusing on how postpartum depression impacts working mothers.

2023 2nd Quarter Update

Every year, in the United States, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This May, the White House held a roundtable with the Department of Labor, Office of Personnel Management, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Domestic Policy Council, and federal employees including union leaders, and mental health experts to discuss how to protect and promote federal employee mental health. Some actions taken by the executive branch to support the mental health of workers, including a Mental Health at Work Initiative by the Department of Labor and the Workplace Stress Toolkit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Part of these actions also includes ensuring that mental health disorders are treated fairly and appropriately under the law (e.g., Americans with Disabilities Act, Family Medical Leave Act, Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008), including providing reasonable accommodations (Fijman, 2023). So, consider this a call from your trend champion for more research on the interaction between law and I-O, particularly with regard to employee mental health.

As inflation and higher interest rates hit workers and employers, employee mental health is top of mind. Workers are looking toward their organizations to provide support for their mental health (Wickens, June 16, 2023) and some employers (like Walmart, the largest private sector employer in the United States) are increasing mental healthcare benefits in response (Mayer, May 31, 2023). Other organizations are now providing trainings for managers and employees on mental health in the workplace (University of South Florida, 2023). Recent research has examined the role of stigma as an antecedent to disclosing mental health issues at work (Pischel & Felfe, 2023). A recent annual review piece on mental health at work, written by SIOP members, also points to some of these issues as well as many more (Kelloway, Dimoff, & Gilbert, 2023).

One of the greatest causes currently for mental health issues in the workforce is the experience (Kelly, Feb 7, 2023) or threat of layoffs. One report found that 77% of companies are either engaging in, or considering, layoffs (McCann, June 9, 2023). Personal stories of the negative impacts of experiencing layoffs have been making headlines (Sadiq, May 32, 2023), and tips on how to prepare for (Taylor Jr., June 2, 2023), and cope with being laid off are abundant (Robinson, Mar 5, 2023; Sweeney, May 30, 2023). Just in time, a team of SIOP members, recently published a paper on the negative impacts of company announced layoffs on employee wellbeing and performance (Van Egdom et al., 2022).

2023 1st Quarter Update

Employee mental health and well-being continue to be a hot topic for organizations looking to compete in a tight labor market. Concerns around employee (dis)engagement (Harter, 2023, Wigert & Pendell, 2023), burnout (Leiter & Maslach, 2023, Wigert & Pendell, 2023), and broad mental health challenges (Glicksman, 2023; Witters & Agrawal, 2022) have taken center stage. These concerns have led to a variety of trends for both employees and employers, including a stronger push for a four-day workweek, a host of employee withdrawal behaviors, and many less-than-ideal attempts to portray organizational concern around well-being.

A massive pilot test of a four-day workweek for the same pay has wrapped up with results being quite positive (see the report here). Moreover, workers clearly reject pushes for longer work weeks (Chen et al., 2023). We’ve seen tools to help people see what a four-day workweek could look like for them (Wolfe et al., 2023), a bill (re)introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to codify the four-day workweek (Takano, 2023, see the text of the bill here), discourse around the equitability of four-day work weeks (Dvorak, 2023), and general continued interest from employees and employers alike (Timsit, 2023). This aligns with work that shows motivation and performance decrease across the workweek (Dust et al., 2022).

Concerns around employee withdrawal behaviors (e.g., quiet quitting, “rage applying”, “resenteeism” Yroz, 2023) are not particularly new but have made their way into popular discourse. We have decades of work that show hindrance stressors (those that limit development or accomplishment) are linked with withdrawal behaviors and a range of other negative outcomes (Podsakoff et al., 2007), and that increased work strain results in withdrawal behaviors like absenteeism due to increased negative symptoms (Darr & Johns, 2008). A recent paper highlights the importance of considering unit-level employee effects on withdrawal behaviors, like turnover, especially for similar workers (Sajjadiani et al., 2023).

Interestingly, this focus on employee mental health and well-being has led to some less-than-ideal organizational initiatives. There is currently increased awareness and pushback against “well-being washing,” in which organizations present themselves as caring about employee wellbeing but don’t actually (Sinclair, 2023). One paper (Budd & Mumford, 2006) explored the phenomenon of companies possibly attempting to appear to be supportive of employees without actually providing benefits (in this case, family-friendly work practices). Similarly, there is a heightened awareness of the negative outcomes associated with toxic positivity (Barbera, 2023). This calls to mind the negative outcomes associated with strong organizational emotional display norms and the emotional labor associated with them. Two recent papers provide excellent reviews (Elfenbein, 2023) and future directions (Gabriel et al., 2023) of this domain of research.

Champion: Keaton Fletcher

Keaton Fletcher

Keaton Fletcher is an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Psychology. His research focuses on workplace leadership and wellbeing, answering questions like "How does becoming a leader impact your wellbeing?", "How does interacting with your leader affect your daily health behaviors?", "What physiological phenomena predict becoming a leader". He co-hosts the “Healthy Work” podcast (@healthyworkpod), which shares the science of making work a healthier experience for everyone. He is married to another I-O psychologist, and together they have two children.