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The ‘Sunday scaries’ every day? Why 87% of employees dread work

Work isn’t necessarily supposed to be fun, but should it be causing employees so much emotional distress

According to a new report by mental health platform Headspace, 87% of employees feel a sense of dread at work at least once a month, and 49% feel dread at least once a week. Unpredictability, a lack of stability, and an overwhelming amount of tasks were the top reasons given for these feelings of malaise. 

While maintaining good mental health has been a challenge for employees over the past few years, dreading work should not be the new normal, says Désirée Pascual, chief people officer at Headspace. 

“That sense of dread that we’re feeling throughout our workforce is a result of compound change and prolonged uncertainty,” she says. “Is it normal? No. It’s a chronic stress response.” 

Pascual says the endless onslaught of crises has taken its toll across the entire workforce. COVID, global political unrest, economic uncertainty and layoffs have left employers and employees alike grappling with persistent uneasiness. Today’s volatile work environment is affecting CEOs as they navigate decisions that could have a painful impact on their teams; 59% of top leaders say they feel concerned about economic circumstances on a weekly basis. A quarter of employees say they feel dread around being laid off.  

To address this, employers need to create as much certainty as possible about the future of the business, communicate regularly with employees across the organization, and continue to provide robust mental health benefits to address these persistent challenges. 

“To acknowledge what is going on is to feel seen, and that is everything,” Pascual says. “There’s an acknowledgment that you don’t feel like you’re carrying this alone. The view can be very different depending on where folks sit, which is why this consistent communication is so paramount.” 

HR leaders are often the ones tasked with both facilitating these conversations and encouraging employees to engage in available benefits, but that burden can be especially heavy. In fact, Headspace’s report found that HR leaders are the least likely to utilize mental health benefits than any other group in the workplace, with 41% taking advantage of mental health resources, compared to 73% of employees. 

“We have navigated so much in the last three years and in many ways, we’re over capacity,” Pascual says. “To even take a moment to think about your own well-being can feel really difficult. We are very often the emotional anchor for our organizations. It can be really difficult to put on your oxygen mask first.” 

An open flow of communication can clear the air and provide space for people to share what’s nagging them, whether they’re chiming in from the C-suite or working from home, Pascual says. The entire workforce should be intentional about how they ask for support, and how they offer it, too. 

“Instead of asking, ‘Hey, do you need support?’ We can reframe that question in a much more action-oriented way with, ‘What is one thing that I can do this week to support you?’” she says. “Create those opportunities to gather and connect. That sense of community provides connection and feeling that we’re not alone in this and that we’re in this together.” 

Leaders can also model “radical self-care,” Pascual says, by establishing their own boundaries for work and off-time, and encouraging their teams to do the same. An overall sense of well-being can help mitigate uncertainty, and empower employees to feel like they have the tools to manage it. 

“If we model that we’re taking care of our mental health as leaders, it trickles down to employees and gives them permission to radically engage in self-care,” Pascual says. “That fosters a culture of well-being in our organizations, which is something that amidst times of uncertainty is more important than ever.” 

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