How to Reap the Benefits of Mentally Healthy Employees
In the past few years, employee wellbeing has become more of a focus, and this includes mental and emotional health. Employees ranging from interns to C-suite executives benefit greatly from mental health care and initiatives.
On the other hand, when aspects of mental health are neglected, individual and company-wide harm has been reported. Let’s start this discussion by taking a look at some research on the topic.
Some Important Statistics on Mental Health and Job Performance
The first fact any business leader should understand is that employee mental wellness is already affecting your organization. If you aren’t convinced of this already, read on—the employee mental health statistics are overwhelmingly convincing. Consider just a few:
- 18.3% of US adults have some form of mental illness.
- A third of employees describe their stress level at work as “unusually high”.
- When asked if they are concerned about their burnout level at their job, 90% of employees answer “yes”.
- 57% of employees report that they lose at least one quarter of their productive work hours to either mental distress or substance use to cope with their mental ailments.
- The annual mental healthcare bill for American workers alone is about $200 billion.
The costs of employee mental ailments, along with the losses of productivity, are mostly paid for by employers. In fact, employees with mental health vulnerabilities have the highest healthcare costs of any group—even higher than employees with obesity or addiction issues like smoking—while having the lowest productivity rates.
Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that 12 billion work days are lost every year to depression and anxiety alone, with a total annual cost of over $1 trillion due to lost productivity alone—not to mention the associated healthcare costs.
But regardless of the clear costs mental health ailments create, employees’ mental problems largely go unaddressed. For example, only 40% of employees with severe depression—one of the most harmful and common mental health problems—receive any treatment at all.
High healthcare costs are not the only way employees’ mental health problems cost companies. Our best current data suggests that, in cases of depression, a staggering amount–somewhere between 20% and 35%–of employees’ productive work time is lost.
Let’s sum up the situation purely in business terms: Every year there is at a minimum a trillion dollars to be captured, and the way to capture that money is to strategically employ tools that increase employee mental health.
Job Factors That Deplete or Cultivate Wellbeing
The World Health Organization provides a clear and useful framework for thinking about the relationship between work and mental wellbeing. They use a concept they call “decent work” to mean the sort of work and work conditions that promote employee wellbeing, and they then outline some of the most common ways jobs can fall short of providing healthy environments and decent work.
According to the WHO’s Decent Work model, a healthy, decent job has the following four traits:
- It pays enough to give the worker a comfortable livelihood
- The work provides the worker with a sense of achievement and self-confidence, because the work serves a real purpose
- The work environment offers opportunities for developing positive relationships with coworkers and customers, and a sense of inclusion in a community
- The job is neither so structured and routine that it numbs the mind, nor so chaotic and unpredictable that it keeps workers in a state of anxiety
The research using this model also helps identify the most common threats to employee wellbeing. The top 12 threats are:
- Under-use of employees’ skills
- Excessive demands on workers’ pace, output, or level of performance
- Long, isolating, or inflexible work hours
- Lack of a sense of control over how the work is done
- Unsafe or poor work conditions
- Negative organizational culture
- Lack of collegiality
- Overly authoritarian supervision
- Lack of clarity in job description
- Under- or over-promotion
- Job or pay insecurity
- Lack of accommodation for home life and personal needs
The differences between healthy and unhealthy workplaces and workers translate into clear differences in how well an organization runs, and in how profitable it is.
The Benefits of Mentally Healthy Employees
There is simply no question that mentally healthy workplaces make for far more profitable businesses. Consider the value of just one of the WHO’s aspects of a mentally healthy workplace: jobs that feel engaging and purposeful.
Employees who consider themselves “highly engaged” with their work are 21% more profitable than others. However, only 36% of employees describe themselves as feeling engaged by their work. The consequence? According to Forbes, companies with low employee engagement are outperformed by high-engagement companies by 147%.
What’s more, employees overwhelmingly want to be healthier, more productive, more engaged workers (by 73%), but they also overwhelmingly (by 63%) believe that their employer has no interest in investing in them in this way. And it’s not as if employees are not pursuing mental health in their own time; nearly 70% report that they have tried, but found help inaccessible.
Ways Workplaces Can Invest in Themselves by Investing in Employee Mental Health
When we understand what helps cultivate mental health, and what corrodes mental health in the workplace, we can begin considering how to improve our own organizations. We can break it down into a three-step process:
The most essential first step for any organization is to set aside a budget of resources—both time and money—to use to promote mental health, prevent losses in productivity, and lower long-term costs of employee mental healthcare. In light of the data we have available today, there is no reason for any organization to neglect creating an annual mental health budget.
The second step is to openly communicate the organization’s concern for employee wellbeing to its workers, and to try to assess employee wellbeing before making a plan. Assessing employee wellbeing is as easy as sending out an anonymous survey, and a great, free one is the CDC’s Worker Wellbeing Questionnaire.
The third step is to create and communicate resources and avenues for employee mental health. Initial ways to do this include helping employees find and pursue mental healthcare. Some smart steps include:
- Setting out pamphlets on the importance of mental health and how employees can recognize their own mental health problems—like Mental Health America’s free screening tool.
- Providing materials that point employees to community mental health resources and organizations.
- Adopting HR policies that intentionally make room for employees wrestling with mental illnesses. For instance, allocating days of missed work for the sake of mental health, and not requiring employees to explain when they cannot be present relieve some of the pressure to “seem okay” when they may not be—and this pressure itself can exacerbate mental illness.
To go even further, next steps should include taking an active role in advocating for employee wellbeing. This means:
- Actively encouraging employees to take advantage of mental healthcare coverage in their insurance policies.
- Partnering with local mental healthcare providers to create easy access to mental health resources for your employees. For instance, one could offer on-site or discounted yoga sessions or guided meditation. The cost of hiring a yoga or meditation instructor to offer regular classes is very low, and is certainly outweighed by the benefits to employees and to the organizational culture.
- Restructuring healthcare packages around healthcare with low premiums.
If your organization has the resources, it can take even more proactive steps. These could include:
- Partnering with healthcare providers to collect data on workers’ well-being, and use that data to devise and implement strategies that preempt mental illness.
- Hosting company retreats centered on building psychological health.
It’s obvious at this point that, regardless of the size of your organization or its resources, there’s no shortage of meaningful, effective steps it can take toward encouraging your employees’ mental health.
It’s clear that employee mental health is important not just because employee lives matter, but because employee wellness is essential for businesses to survive and thrive. It’s just as clear that investments in employee wellbeing are smart, high-yield investments. We at KnowledgeCity are here to help you make those investments.
One of our chief goals at KnowledgeCity is to make positive change convenient and accessible to professionals with busy schedules. We have courses designed to help leaders like you grow the knowledge and skills it takes to cultivate wellbeing in employees, have better conversations with your colleagues, and increase employee performance.
So, if you are ready to take serious steps toward investing in healthier employees, great places to start would be our course, Having a Healthy Work Culture, or Navigating and Managing Emotions in Life Situations. We’re prepared here at KnowledgeCity to help you improve your teams’ emotional wellbeing!
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