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The languishing of the “massive middle”


Mental health isn’t just the absence of illness. It’s a continuum ranging from severe symptoms such as panic attacks and major depression to excellent mental strength and well-being.

At any given time, some of your employees are doing great and some are in crisis. At one extreme, their well-being is low and they struggle to function. At the other extreme, people are super-functional. They lean into change and challenges, energized by the opportunity to stretch and learn, and have the skills to maintain their own well-being.

It might surprise you to know how many are in-between and how many are on the lower-end of in-between. The graph below shows the distribution of mental health levels for employees across companies and industries over an 11-month period.

Our research suggests that 55% of employees at any given time are languishing.

Those who are languishing experience heightened stress and physical and mental exhaustion. They may be more irritable, confused, sad, or angry — this makes social connections and maintaining positive relationships more difficult, which further decreases their sense of well-being. They struggle to stay focused, to find meaning, and for many, to find optimism and hope for the future.

When people are languishing, the normal stressors of life and work pile up and hit them harder — everything feels like a struggle. Major transitions and life stages can amplify the effect.

This comports with Gallup research that shows some 62-68% of US employees are not engaged at work and Deloitte’s finding that 46% have no interest-driven motivation for their work (only 14% have high interest and motivation associated with passion for their work). A study released by Qualtrics found that 54.4% of employees reported their mental health as something less than “healthy.”

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