Deeper Thoughts
Seeing Burnout Culture for What it Really Is

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s also a great time to take a look at how far we’ve come as an industry (and as a community) when it comes to both acknowledging the validity and significance of mental health, and providing adequate mental health resources for employees. It’s also a great time to take a look at how far we have to go, as well.

Mental Health by the Numbers

While the consensus is slowly evolving, there are still old school executives and owners out there (and not just in the mortgage industry) that believe a good dose of “suck it up and get back to work” is the appropriate prescription for things like depression or anxiety. Once upon a time, it wasn’t uncommon for employers to believe that employees struggling with mental health illnesses were simply too soft or too sensitive for the rugged “real world.” So, for them, here are a few numbers about the truly “real world.”

In 2022, mental health and related issues impact 13% of the world’s population. Anxiety, the most common mental illness, affects 284 million people. The mortality rate of those with mental disorders is significantly higher than the general population, with a median expectancy loss of 10.1 years. It’s estimated that mental disorders contribute to 14.3 % of deaths around the world—approximately 8 million deaths.

Not to be trite, but rather, to highlight the absurdity of those employers downplaying the impact of mental illness—that’s a lot of lost productivity. Certainly a lot more than the time “lost” when human beings are given the time and resources to address their disorders.

Here’s the Good News

Another source reports that about two-thirds of American employees have clinically measurable mental health symptoms of anxiety or depression. But here’s some good news. Whether because of a general evolution or because of the impact of a world pandemic and subsequent labor shortage, the good news is that employers are starting to beef up, rather than cut back on, the mental health benefits they’re making available to employees. In fact, as of the end of 2021, roughly 39% of employers updated their health plans to expand mental health services. The need was (again) proven to be real, with almost half of the companies with over 5,000 employees reporting a marked increase in the number of employees making use of those benefits. 

Once again, doing the right thing also means the right thing for business, too.

Here’s another great development. Mental health metrics are becoming key metrics for employers as well. One resource estimates that by 2030, mental health issues could cost the global economy over $16 trillion. We could go on with studies and estimates and surveys to prove that an overall improvement in mental health awareness in the business world (including the mortgage world) will also mean cost savings for businesses making the investment. But let’s just confirm, once again, that doing the right thing is almost always what’s right for the business as well.

What can you do?

Upping the budget to account for increased and/or improved employee mental health benefits is a great start. But it’s only a start. There are still too many examples of businesses that say and do all the right things when it comes to mental health awareness—except root out the obsolete, unspoken rules and practices that can make it prohibitively uncomfortable for employees to actually make use of their mental health benefits. So it starts with training and buy-in from the very highest levels of leadership, and filters out.

It also begins with a reprogramming of the ancient conception that every employee should behave as if he or she were the owner of the business. That may be true, if (and only if) said employee is receiving the same benefits, opportunities and windfalls (including compensation) as the owner. We’re not sure there are too many examples of this. So is it really practical to assume that an hourly employee making less than, say, $45,000 a year will have the motivation and desire to run through walls 70 hours a week for a limitless amount of time for an executive team that’s rarely seen or heard from?

Hard workers, especially, need resources and the opportunity to recharge.

It’s time to stop equating a “good old fashioned work ethic,” which is, indeed admirable, with the culture of employee burnout we’ve built in reality. Yes, hard work is a virtue. Rewarding hard work is, perhaps, even more virtuous. But the expectation that human beings can work hard 80 hours a week without reward AND the opportunity to recharge is beyond obsolete. It’s a fiction. And it’s probably a great explanation to executives who live by such an obsolete code why they have to keep spending unnecessary dollars to recruit and hire for the same positions, over and over again. It’s not as simplistic as “nobody likes to work anymore.” 

And that’s why improved mental health benefits are a great start. But only a start.