Opinium’s recent audit of Mental Wellbeing in the Insights industry conducted in partnership with the Insights Association surveyed 482 U.S. research professionals spanning agency, in-house teams, suppliers, and freelance researchers across the U.S..

The results revealed a concerning imbalance—while research companies are ahead of the curve in their efforts to create a compassionate and open environment when it comes to mental health, research professionals struggle significantly more with mental health than workers in other industries. The research revealed that 83% of research professionals have struggled with their mental health to some degree in the past 12 months vs only 50% of all U.S. workers. However, 62% of researchers do feel their companies take mental health seriously (vs 51% of U.S. workers) and 60% feel they would be supported at work if they were struggling with mental health (vs 52% of U.S. workers). So, what is missing? Why are research professionals still struggling to such a degree with their mental well-being and what can be done to close the gap?

Employee experience agency, Cheer Partners, explains that, in both professional and personal settings, those who identify areas for improvement and work to help others reach their goals often put their own growth or needs on the back burner. Research professionals are dedicated to curating data and results for other companies and therefore feel a constant pressure to keep churning out results. Impending deadlines and workload (having too much to do) are the top two workplace stressors for the Insights community. This makes it difficult for them to carve out the time to address their own needs. 

In fact, Opinium’s survey found that research professionals are less willing to take time off to take care of themselves for mental and physical well-being than other U.S. workers. Only 30% of research professionals have taken time off for their mental health vs. 46% of U.S. workers. Similarly, only 42% have taken time off for physical health reasons vs. 57% of U.S. workers. Furthermore, almost half (48%) of those who have experienced poor mental health say they had too much to do to take time off (vs 19% of U.S. workers). And while research professionals are offered a variety of programs to support their mental wellbeing, Opinium’s research found that many are underutilized. 

So how can we start to change the culture in Insights to encourage employees to take the time they need to take care of themselves? 

  1. Leaders must set the tone for their organizations and lead by example: Statistically, managers, leaders and founders are less likely to take time off because they feel it is crucial to show up for and be constantly available to their team. Leaders, however, should make a concerted effort to push past this as it can be extremely beneficial to the rest of the organization to see management leading by example, taking time off to refresh and invest in their own mental well-being. This helps normalize the behavior for younger employees, who Opinium’s survey reveals are more prone to mental health issues in the Insights industry and are also nervous that they will be perceived negatively for taking time off and that their careers will suffer for it. 
  2. Ensure your training and company programming supports mental well-being, not just productivity: Most companies have training programs that promote productivity or relationship management/expectations in the workplace but we rarely see training that empowers employees to talk about the mental impact of stress on their well-being. Paradoxically, taking care of employee well-being is one of the best things employers can do to drive productivity and enable them to deliver top-tier results. Cheer Partners recommends starting by building communications plans that incorporate both effective processes with cadence of roll-out as well as cultures that foster authentic employee engagement. They empower their clients and their team with sustainable programs that will endure, with built in flexibility to adapt to evolving needs. Enhancing the employee experience holistically speaks to effective programs, and a healthy team to execute against them. During this prolonged period of virtual work, we recommend carving out time to connect in a less formal way the way you would if you were in the office. This can look like a virtual yoga class, a team meditation calendar block, or simply virtual coffee. A holistic communications plan supports both formal and informal communication outlets and resources for employees at all levels. 
  3. Build trust by reassuring employees of confidentiality: While two-fifths (38%) of research professionals are offered employee assistance programs (EAPs), only 5% have used them, found Opinium. These are typically external HR-type outlets for employees who are struggling with any range of issues to share and get guidance on how to address their problem. A major reason this resource is not often taken advantage of is because it feels impersonal which does not foster trust. Employees must feel confident that what they share will remain confidential and not come back to negatively impact them. Implementing this can tie back to the ‘leading by example’ call out. If managers are willing to make use of these resources, their teams would be more likely to follow suit. 
  4. Give employees an opportunity to be heard: Leaders generally feel they need to demonstrate confident, decisive action to appear strong. However, the best advice we can give to senior professionals is to ask questions. An international client of Cheer Partners successfully demonstrated this in the midst of COVID-19, assembling diverse focus groups of employees across countries and projects to ask how they were really doing, what they felt was working well, and what changes they wanted to see. When presented with the opportunity (and a safe environment) employees are very forthcoming with feedback. In turn, there is a massive sense of appreciation from employees who feel their voice is genuinely valued and that their company factors their needs into their planning. We recommend engaging your employees as often as possible. Whether through employee-led resource groups or employee surveys, companies need to actively listen and allow their team to guide them in terms of resources they would make use of. That said, it is important for employees to know who to go to with feedback. Consider assembling a task force with both employee and leader representation that serves as the sounding board dedicated to meeting evolving needs.