Drastic decline in the mental health of Polish workers


Almost ⅔ of employees have noticed a deterioration in mental health in the last 3 years. One in five working Poles used psychological support last year, and 62% of them call for such opportunities to be provided by employers. These are just some of the findings from the latest report “Wellbee Mental Condition of Polish Workers”, created in collaboration with the ICAN Institute. The results of the studies are unequivocal – the mental state of Polish workers requires support, possibly primarily from employers. Although many companies declare the inclusion of this form of assistance in the well-being strategy of the organization, its actual implementation still leaves much to be desired. The data contained in the report and the real image of the condition of Polish workers is a problem worth discussing loudly – especially in the light of World Mental Health Day celebrated on October 10.

Key data from the report:

  • 97% of managers noticed a decline in motivation and engagement of employees over the last 3 years;
  • workers most frequently cite factors such as low morale, workplace atmosphere, salary, family and financial problems as reasons for a decrease in professional effectiveness;
  • 72% of employees struggle with feelings of anxiety and fear for the future, and 60% express sadness and helplessness;
  • as many as 33% of workers in Poland meet the screening criteria for further assessment towards mood disorders or anxiety disorders;
  • 18% of employees used psychological support in the last year;
  • 62% of workers declare that they would like their employer to ensure access to mental health support;
  • only 30% of Polish employers have included psychotherapeutic support in their wellbeing strategy;
  • the average time of absence due to the poor mental state of Poles is 20 days per year;
  • over half of respondents declare that external support from mental health experts would have a positive impact on improving teamwork.

Need for support and… openness

Mental health is a topic that became “loud” in Polish business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies undertook a number of actions to support their employees’ mental health. However, what was missing was the continuation and implementation of long-term strategies – when the topic ceased to be “urgent”, initiatives to improve mental condition in the workplace lost momentum.

So what does the situation in Polish organizations look like now? Although we have access to global research and reports, until now there was a lack of data on Polish companies. Wellbee – a provider of mental health support tools, in collaboration with the ICAN Institute, decided to fill this gap and prepared the report “Mental Condition of Polish Workers”.

The results are alarming. The report clearly shows that the problem of poor well-being among employees has significantly increased in recent years and has resulted in a significant decline in the level of motivation and engagement. Fortunately, the employees are increasingly speaking up about it and employers are beginning to recognize the seriousness of the problem.

In the struggle for increased productivity

The changing reality of the Polish job market is clearly visible today. HR departments are working twice as hard to retain employees in the organization, fighting for their engagement and motivation. Unfortunately, what is still missing in many organizations is knowledge about how well-being and a good atmosphere affect efficiency. The topic – considering the survey results – is important, as only just under 4% of employees do not see the need to support mental health and well-being.

So what improves work efficiency according to the employees themselves? The level of remuneration still comes first. Followed by: low morale, work atmosphere, financial difficulties or family problems. As Dariusz Milewski points out:

The times when it was a priority to keep a job at all costs are slowly becoming a thing of the past. What starts to be crucial in choosing an employer is whether we are understood at work, whether we are victims of aggression or discrimination, whether we can openly talk about our problems and whether they will be treated seriously.

The problem is becoming more serious, as 72% of employees struggle with feelings of anxiety and worry about what the future holds. Following this, 60% of Wellbee survey respondents admit that they are unable to control their anxiety, and as many openly talk about feelings of sadness and helplessness. Lack of tangible support in the field of mental health may contribute to the deepening of another serious problem of modern times, such as depression or anxiety disorders.

Awareness of the problem is growing, but it is not yet translating into adequate action.

The power of stereotype

Today, as many as 33% of survey respondents meet criteria for further screening diagnosis towards mood disorders or anxiety disorders. What does this mean? That statistically, in a ten-person team, three people could suffer from serious mental illness and should contact a specialist as soon as possible. Do they do this? Do employers give them approval? In both cases, the answer is too often: no.

Women and young people who are just entering the job market or have been on it relatively briefly are the most often to talk about their mental problems. Wellbee data also shows that one in five employees used psychological support over the past year.

In terms of generation, people aged 18-25 most often talk about their state of well-being. Among women in this age segment, as many as 68% meet the prerequisites for further diagnosis towards anxiety disorders.

The need for psychological support is not tied to gender. Only 28% of working men in Poland also meet the screening criteria for further diagnostics towards anxiety disorders and mood disorders. When looking at the age of respondents, in the 56-65 age group the problem affects 26% of men and 29% of women.

Can we infer from this that men and more experienced workers rarely require the support of a psychologist? Not necessarily. Polish society still harbours the stereotype of a “tough” man who doesn’t talk about emotions. Additionally, older people draw a clear line between family problems and work life and are not used to talking about their mental condition. Their lack of declarations does not necessarily mean that there is no problem.

It’s good to talk

Stigmatization and stereotypes are not the only challenges. A big hindrance is also communication. Ineffective, judgmental and non-transparent – it contributes to decreased efficiency and deterioration of the mental health of employees. 52% of Wellbee survey respondents – leaders and HR specialists – believe that communication has a huge impact on the comfort of employees and the atmosphere in the company. What’s more, as many as 96% of decision-makers and 95% of employees see it as the most important competence of the future.

Communication and transparency are also key to destigmatization in this case. Many employees are ashamed to admit to psychological problems for fear of ridicule or misunderstanding. Leaders’ dismissive approach to this problem does not encourage employees to fight for their own well-being.

Employers often do not realize the scale of the problem and that their employees need support in mental health. They, in turn, do not talk about this openly for fear of criticism. As a result, the vicious circle closes. So what should be done?

Employees should have the opportunity to openly share experiences and feel comfortable talking about the difficulties they’re experiencing. They cannot be afraid that they will get a bad evaluation or even worse – that there will be consequences for them. Therefore, it is crucial to provide a tool that not only ensures professional support and self-development materials but is also 100% anonymous. The commitment of leaders and management – that’s another very important element of this puzzle. The example comes from above and largely depends on the management whether the issue of mental health will be normalized in the company.

Sick leave due to mental health

According to the report “Mental Condition of Polish Employers”, every fifth worker in the study took leave or a vacation due to poor mental health. The results are frightening, as in a year a worker spends nearly 20 days on medical leave due to poor mental health. This costs the employer an average of PLN 3 375.76.

The problem is therefore not only serious but also costly. Can Polish employers afford such losses?

“When issuing the report ‘Mental Condition of Polish Employers’, we wanted to draw the attention of both employees and employers to the growing scale of the problem. The report contains not only practical tips that will help implement professional care into companies but also describes the factors that really affect the emotional state of employees, such as relationships with loved ones.” – notes Dariusz Milewski and adds – “Providing employees with mental health support tools does not have to (and even should not!) be associated with large sums that often deter employers from implementing appropriate solutions. The cost of a 20-day absence far exceeds the expense associated with implementing a mental health tool. And absence is of course just one of the costs the employer bears!”