Thriving Together Series: Effectively Managing Mental Health at Work

Managing mental health at work TTWBW

This edition of the Thriving Together Series is adapted from The Well-Being Lab 2020 Workplace Report, a collaboration between our center and The Well-Being Lab (a Michelle McQuaid program). The report is based on two surveys of more than 1,000 workers each, throughout the United States.

Feelings of struggle, anxiety, and stress are signs that something important for us is unfolding that needs our attention and action. When effectively managed, then struggle does not undermine thriving. But when struggle is ignored and avoided for too long, people start breaking. To unnecessarily avoid prolonged struggle, we must feel safer talking about the challenges we are experiencing with each other.

Biggest Causes of Struggle

Mental health was the leading cause of struggle (36.7%), especially for those who were not feeling bad, just getting by or really struggling.

Perhaps not surprising with the rapid changes that lockdowns created, changes at work was the second greatest area of struggle. This was especially a greater struggle for those who were living well, despite struggles.

Given the economic concerns America is facing, it was also not surprising to see that managing money at home was the third biggest struggle for most workers. However, this was significantly less of a struggle for workers who were consistently thriving.

Physical health was the fourth greatest are of struggle, with health being more of a concern for workers who were consistently thriving or really struggling.

Not Safe to Share Struggles

Studies have consistently found that feeling safe to share struggles with others relates to greater levels of engagement, productivity, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

Unfortunately, only two out of every ten American workers felt safe to share their struggles at work. This was particularly true for men, and for workers who were really struggling or not feeling bad, just getting by. These findings highlight the importance of normalizing struggle as a part of well-being and creating opportunities for people to talk about struggle as a normal part of work experience.

It is worth noting, however, that some workers may prefer to keep their struggles to themselves, and people should not be forced into sharing things they do not feel comfortable sharing. Indeed, being forced to share would undermine psychological safety and feelings of support. In addition, workers who overshare their struggles are at risk of being viewed by their managers and colleagues as whining, and this can have a negative impact on their relationships.

The Loneliness Challenge

24% of American workers reported feeling lonely and isolated at work. This was particularly true for those workers who have always been located at home or have started working at home due to COVID-19. Workers who were still working on-premises also felt lonelier than those who began working from home as a result of COVID-19.

While some studies point to the negative impact that loneliness can have on workers’ well-being and performance, our results produced some interesting patterns to consider. Workers who reported either low or high levels of feeling alone and isolated reported better performance than workers who reported moderate levels of feeling alone and isolated. Why might this be?

Workers who were consistently thriving were both the least and most likely to report feeling very alone and isolated at work. In both cases, they also reported significantly higher levels of way power, will power, we power and PERMAH. This suggests that these other aspects can buffer the otherwise negative effects of loneliness.

This same pattern appeared, to a lesser extent, for workers who were living well despite struggle and not feeling bad but just getting by. However, those who were really struggling seemingly did not have enough of these protective well-being factors to buffer the impacts of loneliness.

Additional Resources

Learn how to apply the science of well-being to your leadership, in our Leading to Well-Being certificate programs.

Measure your well-being through the free PERMAH Well-Being Survey. See how you’re doing when it comes to your levels of thriving and struggle, and your abilities and motivation to care for your well-being. You can even create a free personal well-being plan, drawing on more than 200 evidence-based well-being actions. You can also use this tool for teams or entire workplaces.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!