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The High Toll of Work on Mental Health and Its Hit to Productivity

New survey findings show that more than a third of workers say their jobs are a drag on their mental health, with government employees topping a list of those reporting ill effects.

Poor mental health is costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars each year, and government and public policy employees accounted for the largest share of workers who said their jobs were harming their mental health, according to a recent Gallup report.

People who reported fair or poor mental health averaged 12 days of unplanned absences from work, compared to the 2.5 days other workers took off, according to Gallup. That shakes out to about $47.6 billion in productivity loss annually. A full-time worker’s unplanned absence costs about $340 per day–and that’s a conservative estimate, according to Gallup.

About 40% of workers said their jobs had either an “extremely” or “somewhat” negative effect on their mental health. Meanwhile, about 30% said their work had an “extremely” or “somewhat” positive effect. 

When asked what effect the previous six months had on their mental health, 13% of people working in government or public policy replied, “extremely negative.” Transportation workers had the next highest share of respondents who said the same (10%), followed by those in tech fields (9%).

The share of workers reporting poor mental health varies greatly across age and gender.

Women–especialy young women–are more likely to report poor mental health than men. However, that gap closes among older demographics. 

Younger people are more likely to report poor mental health because of their jobs, with nearly half of surveyees under 30 saying their jobs had an “extremely or somewhat negative” effect on their mental well-being. 

Across older demographics, that figure steadily decreases. Only 15% of workers over 65 say their jobs are detrimental to their mental well-being, while 45% said their work has an “extremely or somewhat positive” effect on their mental health. 

A significant share of workers say their employers don’t offer mental health support services, and even more respondents said they weren’t sure. Across most industries included in the survey, more than half of workers didn’t have – or didn’t know how to — access mental health support through their employers. 

Gallup’s survey results are based on information collected from nearly 16,000 adults working in the United States in August and September. 

To read the full report, click here.

Molly Bolan is the assistant editor for Route Fifty. 

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