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

Updated: Mar 4, 2022


Bernie Wong, Manager of Research & Design, Mind Share Partners

Nina Tomaro, Marketing and Communications Lead, Mind Share Partners

A recent survey of 12,000 employees, managers, HR leaders and C-level executives across the globe found that up to 89% reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Now, mental health is at the top of workplace agendas, including executives' agendas, and employers are investing more in supporting employee mental health through workplace mental health training initiatives, employee benefits, employee resource groups, and other programs.

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Global investment firm, BlackRock, is among a growing number of organizations conducting regular pulse surveys throughout the pandemic to better understand how their employees are doing in the moment and over time. In a Harvard Business Review article, Mind Share Partners’ Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol highlight that at BlackRock “direct employee input has helped shape new programs, including remote management skill-building for managers, enhanced health and well-being support for employees, and increased work flexibility and time off.”

There are many benefits to regular measurement and collecting employee feedback:

  • 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 and signal to the rest of employees that your organization is taking action for workplace mental health.

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 wellbeing. These questions capture key information across a variety of factors that impact workplace mental health including stigma, resources, workplace factors, leadership, and productivity.

Before you 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.

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

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

8 in 10 workers report shame and stigma keep them from seeking treatment for their mental health. In fact, the average time between when someone first experiences symptoms of a mental health condition to when they first seek treatment is 10 years.

This measure establishes an initial baseline for the prevalence of stigma around mental health at your company and measures how it changes over time. Proactive efforts to curb 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.

One helpful variation to consider is asking multiple questions that measure comfort levels speaking to specific roles:

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

  • Colleagues

  • Managers

  • HR

  • Company leaders

This offers a deeper understanding of exactly who your employers are going to for support and how “safe” different levels of management 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 have an understanding of what resources are available for mental health at my company.”

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

Mind Share Partners 2019 Mental Health at Work Report in partnership with SAP and Qualtrics found that only 50 percent of respondents knew the proper procedure for getting support for their mental health, and one of the most common resources employees wanted was clearer or more available information about where to go or who to ask for mental health support.

This measure gauges employee awareness of available resources and if more communication around mental health resources and procedures is needed. For example, EAPs are one of the most common resources for mental health, yet median utilization rates hover at roughly 5%. As employers assess their mental health offerings, it’s important to understand if employees know they exist and how to access them to get a more accurate picture of their effectiveness and utilization. Make sure to also pay attention to who (role, tenure, etc.) is the least aware of resources available and what information they are lacking (e.g., information about benefits or privacy around accessing EAPs). What’s more, recall the stigma piece—the lack of conversation about mental health and leaders advocating for (and visibly using) mental health resources is often a significant factor in low utilization as well.

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

Mental health is more than benefits, self-care, and 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—as well as stressors that are unique to your organization—for example, high client demands for those in the professional service industry. 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. Mind Share Partners 2019 Mental Health At Work Report found that only 41 percent of employees felt mental health was prioritized at their organization, and only 37 percent viewed 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 what ways did a mental health condition or symptom affect your productivity at work in the past year?

Note: This question in particular can be highly sensitive. Take extra care in privacy measures to not only ensure the safety of your employees but the reliability of this data.

There is a clear and direct impact of not addressing mental health at work on business outcomes. And in Mind Share Partners 2019 Mental Health At Work Report, we found that 61% of employees’ productivity was affected by their mental health—the most common ways being difficulty concentrating, avoiding social activities, and difficulty thinking, reasoning, or deciding.

This measure can prove vital for those aiming to build the case for mental health in their workplace and cultivate buy-in from top leadership, as it can provide concrete ways that mental health impacted productivity. However, this is perhaps the most challenging measure to implement effectively, particularly in highly stigmatized environments. Calling back to the leading burnout researcher Christina Maslach, burnout is about your workplace, not your people. It’s important that outcomes to this measure are not a reflection of the capabilities of employees themselves—a recent Qualtrics report found similar levels of mental health decline amidst the pandemic across individual contributors, managers, and C-level employees. Instead, understand that the relationship between mental health and productivity is driven by a lack of proper supports in the workplace rather than mental health itself.


Finally, remember to keep diversity, equity, and inclusion top-of-mind. 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.

The measurement of mental health, whether through pulse checks or annual engagement surveys, is an ongoing journey. 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.


Partner with us on your workplace mental health initiatives by reaching out using the contact form at the bottom of this page.

Mind Share Partners provides tailored workplace mental health training and advising solutions at every level of impact. We conduct diagnostic surveys with a comprehensive set of measures as well as discovery interviews with employees that capture the above information and more to help you accurately assess and measure your workplace mental health initiatives.


About the authors:

Bernie Wong (he/him) is a Manager of Research & Design 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.

Prior to Mind Share Partners, Bernie was an Associate at HopeLab, a human-centered design consulting nonprofit, where he developed evidence-based products and solutions to support mental health and wellbeing. Bernie has also worked in freelance visual design, in education at Stanford as a Head Teaching Assistant, and in editorial work and academic research. Bernie also sits on the board of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) Foundation, a grassroots philanthropic organization that provides funds and leverages resources to empower Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ students, organizations, and communities.​

Bernie holds a Master of Health Science in Mental Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from UC Berkeley. 

Nina Tomaro (she/her) 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.

Nina held a position leading the communications team for the largest arts festival on the West Coast and quickly moved up the ranks becoming the Marketing Director for a startup in the Edtech space. Nina is currently working on a consulting basis with companies and brands that are giving back and passionate about a cause or mission.

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