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5 Workplace Mental Health Questions To Include In Employee Pulse And Employee Engagement Surveys

Updated: Mar 13




Mental health has made its way into regular surveying by employers to understand the health and well-being of not only their people but the organization itself, too.


Mind Share Partners created this guide, informed by academic research and industry best practices, with five questions to consider when assessing workplace mental health and well-being. These questions capture key information across a variety of factors that impact workplace mental health including stigma, resources, workplace factors, leadership, and productivity.


What are the benefits of measuring employee mental health?

Measurement provides a number of key benefits:

  • Understand your culture and exactly what its strengths and challenges are. Is it a lack of safety in accessing resources? Or lack of preparedness by managers to respond to mental health conversations?

  • Evaluate what programs, processes, policies, and resources are working and what needs to be improved.

  • Maintain accountability to outcome goals, particularly when findings are shared with senior leaders and integrated into business goals.

  • Communicate to your people that you care about mental health and are prepared to take action to explore meaningful support.


What should I consider before I start?

Mental health can be a sensitive topic, particularly in organizations with high stigma, lack of safety, or for those who simply don’t have a history of explicitly talking about or promoting mental health. When exploring and implementing mental health metrics for your organization, be sure to be incredibly mindful of the following:

  • Privacy. Take care in the nature of the questions you ask of employees, and take proactive measures to make sure that respondents are safe from an anonymity and identifiability perspective and that they feel safe as well. Attempting to measure mental health and stigma in highly stigmatized environments may also skew results in such a way that they are not representative of true employee sentiments.

  • How you use the data. While your findings are intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the culture of mental health at your company, they should never be extrapolated to any individual employee nor assumed to be true for all employees or groups. Instead, they should provide a starting point to understand your culture and to inform effective programs, policies, and practices for mental health.

  • Accountability. While measuring mental health can signal its prioritization at your organization, it also necessitates action, no matter how big or small, following measurement. You should not measure mental health until you are prepared to do something with the result—that is, budget, bandwidth, and leadership investment. Lack of action or communication can breed mistrust and exacerbate existing frustrations.


Five questions to include in your mental health survey:


1. “I feel comfortable talking about my mental health at [company].”

Answer options: “Strongly agree,” “Agree,” “Neither agree nor disagree,” “Disagree,” “Strongly disagree.”


This question measures the prevalence of stigma around mental health. Efforts to reduce stigma will not only increase the likelihood that employees seek support but talking about mental health early with managers or teams can establish proactive ways to protect and support mental health from work-related stressors.

Consider also exploring comfort levels talking to specific groups of people. For example:

“I feel comfortable talking about my mental health at [company] with…

  • Colleagues

  • Managers

  • HR

  • Company leaders


This offers a deeper understanding of exactly who people are going to for support and how “safe” different stakeholders in the organization are perceived to be. Understanding this allows for more targeted and effective workplace mental health programs and training. For example, if a majority of employees do not feel comfortable going to their manager for mental health-related conversations, a workplace mental health manager training series can equip managers with strategies to create a safe, supportive, and mentally healthy team culture.


2. “I know the proper procedure for getting support for mental health at [company]."

Answer options: “Strongly agree,” “Agree,” “Neither agree nor disagree,” “Disagree,” “Strongly disagree.”


Mind Share Partners 2023 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with Qualtrics found that only 64% percent of full-time U.S. workers know how to get support for their mental health. Despite employers increasingly investing in world-class benefits and resources, many employees may not be aware of and how to access them.


To dive deeper, consider segmenting outcomes by role and tenure to understand how you can improve communications and awareness across your organization and employee lifecycle.



3. “What workplace factors, if any, contribute to poor mental health or burnout at [COMPANY]?”

Mental health is more than benefits, self-care, or the occasional mental health day. In fact, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI)—often seen as the gold standard for measuring burnout—asserts that the root causes of burnout do not stem from the individual but rather the workplace itself. Providing benefits and self-care resources without addressing these core workplace factors can reinforce a culture of coping where employees are merely coping through their challenges without ever truly resolving their causes. This, in turn, contributes to long-term outcomes such as high employee turnover, poor employee performance, and more. Thus, it’s important to understand workplace mental health holistically, which includes evaluating your organization’s environment, culture, policies, and practices.

For this question, consider listing the most common triggers for burnout such as lack of control over one’s work, or factors unique to your organization (for example, high client demands for those in professional services). Understanding and addressing the workplace factors contributing to poor employee mental health gives you a road map to creating a way of working in your teams and organization that is supportive of mental health. And there is often more than what companies, leaders, and managers often realize that is within their realm of influence and constraints of the environment. From standardized offline hours to working style conversations, to flexible hours, there are many creative ways to create a way of working that works for everyone.

4. “I feel like [company’s] leadership prioritizes mental health at work.”

Answer options: “Strongly agree,” “Agree,” “Neither agree nor disagree,” “Disagree,” “Strongly disagree.”


Thus far, we’ve shared many ways to support mental health at work: benefits, resources, leadership advocacy, flexible working, and a safe, supportive, and sustainable culture around work. But to actually prioritize these amidst competing priorities is critical.


Our 2023 Report found that only 38% of workers believed that mental health was prioritized at their organization, and only 39% saw their leaders as advocates for mental health at work. What’s more, employees are often reluctant to use benefits unless they perceive that their leaders or the organization as a whole are supporting the use of the benefits.


This measure captures a baseline and ongoing progression of leadership prioritizing workplace mental health in their communication, policies, and actions. It takes more than access to solve mental health at work—it also takes consistent advocacy. This is often why benefits and other resources go underutilized when stigma is high and employees don’t feel safe enough to use them, let alone speak openly about that to others. Leaders are culture-setters. Vocalizing support for mental health, as well as modeling vulnerability and mentally healthy work habits, reinforces a healthy culture around work and mental health across the organization.



5. In the past year, what percent of your full capability did you feel you were able to perform to at work, considering any experiences with mental health challenges?


There is a clear and direct impact of not addressing mental health at work on business outcomes. In our 2023 Report, we found that U.S. workers were only working at 71% of their full capability due to mental health.


This measure can prove vital for those aiming to build the case for mental health in their workplace and cultivate buy-in from their leadership. That said, the accuracy of this measure is particularly contingent on the level of safety and support for mental health in your organization. In high-stigma environments, you are less likely to get accurate data.


 

The measurement of mental health, whether through pulse checks or annual engagement surveys, is an ongoing journey. Remember to keep diversity, equity, and inclusion top-of-mind, too. Demographic groups and their intersections experience and are impacted by mental health differently, and experiences vary drastically across racial and ethnic groups, gender, age, sexual orientation, and parents vs. non-parents. Make sure you are identifying teams, departments, and demographics that need support and provide resources aligned with their feedback.


These five measures are a starting point to help you identify effective supports and understand the culture around mental health at your organization. In turn, as culture improves and employees feel safer and more supported, these measures are likely to become more accurate and more enlightening, thereby creating a positive reinforcement cycle.


 

Bernie Wong is the Knowledge Lead & Principal at Mind Share Partners. He manages specialized client services related to research and insights, leads knowledge management across the organization, and oversees Mind Share Partners’ brand design and virtual community for mental health ERGs.




Nina Tomaro leads Marketing and Communications at Mind Share Partners. Nina launched her marketing career in a unique startup community in Las Vegas, Nevada in Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. Nina worked with and consulted in every area of marketing in the community with a variety of startups over a 4-year duration in Las Vegas.



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