Workplace Safety Issues Correlate With Worker Depression, Anxiety

The National Safety Council calls on employers to address psychological safety for workers, offers a variety of resources and tools as guidance

Feelings of depression and anxiety are strongly correlated with how safe a respondent felt at work, according to the National Safety Council’s (NSC) new Workforce Trends Indicator Survey.

Respondents who felt unsafe at work were nearly three times more likely to report also experiencing depressive symptoms within the past two weeks compared to those who felt safe at work. In addition, respondents who felt unsafe at work were more than twice as likely to also report feeling symptoms of anxiety compared to those who felt safe at work.

psychological safety
Photo: Adobe Stock by Pixel-Shot)

Individuals with the highest level of concern for their safety at work were the most likely to report feeling depressed or anxious frequently enough to meet one of the criteria for clinical diagnosis of mental illness. NSC found 40% of people who reported feeling “very” unsafe at work reported having symptoms of depression all or most days, while only 1% of people who felt very safe at work reported the same. Similarly, 25% of people who reported feeling “very” unsafe at work also reported having symptoms of anxiety all or most days, compared to less than 2% of people who felt very safe at work.

“To be safe, one must also feel safe. Feeling unsafe at work is hurting people, and more must be done to combat this in a holistic way,” said John Dony, vice president of thought leadership at the National Safety Council. “Employers everywhere must accept responsibility for their impact on workers on and off the clock by implementing safety policies and procedures that protect the whole person, including both physically and mentally.”

Addressing mental health in the workplace requires the whole organization, including leadership, human resources, supervisors and managers, safety professionals, and employees themselves. NSC encourages business leaders to take action to support their workers by prioritizing mental health while using NSC materials, consulting services and additional resources that discuss mental health, stress reduction and substance misuse.

NSC continues its research and development of tools and resources that address psychological safety and how it connects to physical safety in the workplace. Review the Campbell Institute’s literature review which includes practical strategies organizations can take to enhance their efforts around psychological safety.

The NSC Workforce Trends Indicator Survey included questions about work environment and industry, feelings of safety at work in general and regarding Covid-19 risk, as well as feelings of depression and anxiety.