Employers must come to grips with employees’ mental health struggles

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“I’m not my employees’ babysitter, their mommy or their therapist,” the CEO insisted. The problem that led to his call: his company’s 2024 employee survey revealed large numbers of his employees expected mental health benefits.

“What are these employees thinking?” he asked. “We offer a generous sick leave allowance, and they’re asking for paid mental health days on top of that? Employees need to handle their own personal issues.”

Good luck with that, I told him. According to national surveys, 61% of Gen-Z employees, 48% of millennial employees and 41% of U.S. employees overall reported it’s likely to very likely they would leave their current job if offered a job with significantly better mental health benefits.

These employees hold high expectations for what their employers need to provide, with 58% asking for paid mental health days — above and beyond regular sick leave; 48% asking for paid or unpaid time off so they can deal with mental health issues; 44% asking for flexible scheduling such as part-time hours, job sharing or flexible starting and ending work times; 35% asking for mental health coverage as part of their employee health care plans; and 35% asking for free or subsidized virtual mental health services.

The reason? The upsurge in mental health problems, with 86% of employees reporting they struggle with at least one type of mental health issue. MetLife’s annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, released in March, corroborated that U.S. employees are experience increasing numbers of mental health struggles. The American Psychological Association has equally weighed in, suggesting the U.S. workforce is experiencing the psychological effects of a collective trauma resulting from mass shootings; global conflict; climate-related disasters; an unpredictable economy with persistent high inflation; the pandemic’s aftermath, and an increasingly polarized nation.

In late March, ComPsych, the world’s largest provider of mental health services, analyzed more than 300,000 U.S. cases and reported anxiety had dramatically increased among U.S. employees in 2023. Although anxiety didn’t even rank among the top five mental health concerns in 2017, in 2023 more employees reached out for help with anxiety than sought help for stress, depression, addiction, or relationship and family issues.

When I spoke with the manager whose call initiated this column, he said, “Our company barely makes a profit. How exactly can we provide what our employees are asking us for — paid mental health days and reimbursements for mental health counseling?”


You might discover, I answered, the benefits pay for themselves in increased productivity. Employees with poor mental health report four times as many unplanned absences as those with good mental health. ComPsych reported that mental health-related leaves of absence, varying from a few days to several weeks, were 33% higher in 2023 than in 2022 and a whopping 300% higher than in 2017.

Additionally, with four in every 10 employees saying it’s likely they’d leave their current job for one offering better mental health benefits, employers offering mental health benefits reap rewards in employee recruitment and retention.

Do employers need to come to grips with their employees’ mental health struggles? It’s the new reality.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Beating the Workplace Bully" and “Solutions,” and Submit questions at or follow her on, or @lynnecurry10 on X/Twitter.