According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “For every US $1 put into scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US $4 in improved health and productivity.” Developing programs to support mental health in the workplace should be a priority for managers, senior leaders and human resources professionals.
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Mental Health in the Workplace
Depression and anxiety cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion per year in lost productivity, according to WHO. Organizations can’t afford to overlook this serious expense.
Data confirms the cost of poor mental health is high. The societal impact of poor mental health on the global economy is expected to reach $6 trillion by 2030. The cost burden of mental disorders in the U.S. is $200 billion per year, one-third of which ties to productivity losses from disability, unemployment, and poor work performance.
There are also numerous negative behaviors linked to individuals with poor mental health. These include smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, and subpar self-care habits. Additionally, mental health issues are commonly associated with several physical health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders.
Specific health conditions have been linked to specific mental health issues. For instance, 45% of patients with asthma and 27% of patients with diabetes have depression. By extension, individuals with depression are 58% more likely to develop obesity, compared with individuals without depression.
The Risks and Effects of Poor Mental Health on the Workplace
There are several workplace-related factors that could spur mental health risks, including poor team cohesion, insufficient employee support, poor communication policies, psychological harassment, and lacking or poor health and safety policies. A poor work environment may lead to harmful use of alcohol, physical and mental health problems, lost productivity, and absenteeism. Employees also miss work more often due to stress and anxiety than physical injury or illness. Additionally, mental illness leads to more lost workdays than chronic conditions as arthritis asthma and diabetes. These issues are prevalent – 27% of Americans ages 15-44 report serious difficulties at work and at home.
Tips for Human Resources Professionals, Manager and Senior Leaders
Individuals across all levels of an organization need support for their mental well-being. The responsibility of promoting a culture that supports mental health falls on managers, leaders and human resources professionals.
How to Support Employee Mental Health
When creating a plan to support employee mental health, managers and leaders can divide their efforts into three categories: prevention and planning, support and understanding, and measuring and growing.
There are seven key preventative and planning steps employers can take. These steps are addressing modifiable risk factors, developing policies concerning harassment prevention, promoting mental health literacy, reducing the stigma surrounding mental health, rewarding metrics like creativity and teamwork, offering a safe, quiet space for breaks and relaxation, and addressing individual and organizational concerns when building a company culture.
There are also seven steps to cultivating support and understanding. These steps are fostering an inclusively supportive work environment, providing a support system for employees exhibiting signs of mental health issues, establishing a company culture that acknowledges the importance of rest and healthy relationships, recognizing that every employee is different, communicating the organization’s commitment to fostering a culture that supports mental health, giving employees the option to seek online counseling, and encouraging leaders to share their experiences with obtaining mental health support.
To measure the effectiveness of a mental health program, it’s vital to track changes in seven metrics: employee engagement, economic costs, turnover rates, productivity, health care and disability costs, company reputation, and employee well-being. It’s also vital to tie improvements in individual, company and community health to organizational objectives. Additionally, executive leaders, managers and HR pros should consider attending a training program to learn about building a culture that supports mental health.
Companies Leading by Example
Prudential Financial and USAA have implemented comprehensive mental health programs in the workplace to support all employees.
Prudential’s approach to employee well-being encompasses the physical, emotional, financial, social and spiritual aspects of health. For example, they monitor the impact of supervisors on employee health and well-being via anonymous surveys to understand attitudes toward managers, senior leaders and the organization. They also share video interviews with senior executives speaking about the impact of Prudential’s health and wellness program, which includes professional counseling, alcohol rehabilitation, and support for transitioning back to work after time off for health reasons.
USAA’s approach, meanwhile, encompasses the physical, financial and emotional aspects of health. They provide online learning tools to employee, including courses, videos, and reading materials on a variety of topics like interpersonal communication, stress management, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These tools aim to deliver strategic wellness messages, foster healthy communities, and measure progress and evaluate outcomes.
Supporting employee mental health is just as important as ensuring employee physical well-being. To truly foster a culture that cares about employee mental health, executive leaders, managers and human resources mangers should be committed to understanding and addressing the individual needs of employees, as well as the needs of the organization as a whole.