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More CEOs Than Employees View Workplace as Toxic

Businessolver, a leader in benefits and HR technology solutions, has released initial findings from its 2024 State of Workplace Empathy Study, which surveys more than 3,000 employees, HR leaders, and CEOs. Among the most alarming of the study’s findings is the discovery that many employees and CEOs appear to be suffering from higher rates of both mental health and workplace toxicity issues.  

One in two (50%) employees who participated in the survey report experiencing a mental health issue in the past year. Among CEOs, however, the percentage jumps to 55%, a 24-point year-over-year increase.  

“We commend the CEOs who took part in this study for approaching it with honesty and openness, particularly given the persistent stigma that surrounds mental health,” says Jon Shanahan, president and CEO at Businessolver. “The more leaders are in touch with and willing to share their own struggles, the greater opportunity for empathy across the organization.”  

The survey finds nearly 90% agreement across employees, HR, and CEOs that it’s important for senior leadership to openly discuss mental health issues to create a safe environment for other employees to follow suit. What’s more, 73% of employees believe their manager emphasizes the importance of mental health, indicating a rising degree of empathy being executed at the supervisor level. 

However, CEOs (81%), HR (72%), and employees (67%) all agree that companies view someone with mental health issues as weak or a burden. Among non-leadership employees, women and the youngest workers seem to be suffering the most from mental health challenges. In fact, 60% of female respondents indicate they have experienced mental health issues compared to 40% of male respondents. Gen Z participants are almost twice as likely at 65% to report a mental health issue as compared to baby boomers at 38%.  

As for workplace toxicity, many CEOs and employees agree on its pervasiveness, with 42% of total respondents agreeing that their workplace is toxic. The study finds a strong correlation between mental health issues and workplace toxicity: employees who view their workplace as toxic are 47% more likely to also cite a mental health issue. Additionally, the more flexibility an employee has, the less likely they are to view their company culture as toxic. Just 24% of remote workers cite toxicity within their organization.  

Businessolver’s previous 2023 study uncovered double-digit empathy gaps between how audiences perceive empathy in each other, with CEOs and employees at a 32-point divide. This year’s study indicates this dynamic may be improving slightly with the CEO-employee empathy gap declining to 23 points. Similarly, the CEO-HR gap also improved by five points, shrinking to a 19-point gap. This improvement is also evident in the decline in HR mental health issues, down 16 points to 45%.  

“This year’s findings present a mixed bag of concern and cautious optimism,” Shanahan says. “One thing is certain; empathy increasingly means more and holds far deeper significance for employees. Leaders must evolve and adapt their understanding of empathy while dismantling the stigmas that hinder it. As such, part two of our study reveals the behaviors most strongly correlated with positive perceptions of empathy, helping organizations construct a game plan for putting empathy into action.” 

Tags: Employee Well-being, Leadership

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