Featured on Forbes. Author: Garen Staglin
Most of the world’s population spends one-third of their adult lives at work. When work is fulfilling, it can help a person feel engaged, valued and productive. When work is stressful, the overall quality of life suffers, and work-related concerns can exacerbate mental health conditions including anxiety and depression.
There’s interconnectivity between our personal and professional lives too. Satisfaction in our home lives allows us to bring our best selves to work. But when challenges in our personal lives demand attention and induce stress, we can become distracted, upset and exhausted. In today’s fast-paced society, the line between work and life is fading, making mental health increasingly difficult to prioritize.
Almost 20% of working-age adults in the U.S. experience some type of mental health challenge in a given year.
Additionally, rates of major depression increased by 33% between 2013 and 2016. Chances are, either you, a loved one, or someone you work alongside has experienced a mental health challenge – something no one can simply leave at home and deal without outside of work hours.
For employers, that means that a significant portion of their workforce may be struggling on any given day, resulting in impaired performance (so-called “presenteeism” where an employee is at work but unable to be fully productive) and absenteeism. Statistics show that depression and anxiety cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion annually in lost productivity.
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health, along with a fear of being viewed differently as a team member or for promotion, or even losing your job, has left much of America’s workforce avoiding treatment. For example, in the case of depression, the costs of an untreated illness are significant:
- Mental disorders are the single most expensive category of health costs for many employers, across all industries and sizes.
- According to a 2013 Gallup poll, U.S. workers suffering from depression miss an estimated 68 million more workdays each year compared to their counterparts who have not been depressed.
- A person suffering from depression accrues average annual healthcare costs of $14,967, compared with the $5,929 average for the total population—a $9,038 difference—and they make six times as many emergency room visits as the overall population.
Few employers are aware of the extent and details of these costs, due to underreporting, stigma, and complex or unclear data (especially related to productivity.) The first step employers can take to mitigate the hidden burden of mental health conditions is to recognize – or better yet, measure – a broad spectrum of metrics.
Anonymous employee surveys or other assessment tools can help shed light on the mental health of your workforce, including workplace culture issues that may be impeding the effectiveness of other efforts. It is not only unrealistic but also costly for an employer to assume that its workforce is not in need of mental health support, and it is not possible for an organization, large or small, to be immune from the effects of employee mental health challenges.
From an executive’s perspective, it makes good business sense to ensure that your organization’s workforce is healthy, both physically and mentally. Currently, many workplaces overlook mental well-being, meaning that people with mental health conditions go untreated. Some may even worsen under the expectation that individuals can recognize and seek appropriate support or professional services to overcome issues like depression or anxiety by their own initiative.
However, studies indicate as much as a 10-to-1 return on investment in mental health training programs – to reduce stigma, train managers and improve organizational culture – pointing to the fact that addressing workplace mental health is not only an ethical priority but a business imperative.
Momentum around mentally healthy and supportive workplaces is building, but considerable challenges exist. Employees and executives need to make mental health a priority, but a negative stigma pervades. Beyond stigma and workplace culture, there are barriers to care, including underutilization of benefits and lack of parity between mental and physical treatment options.
Widespread changes are necessary to reduce the heavy but often invisible toll that mental health challenges have on the workplace. To change the status quo, the engagement of executive leadership – especially that of major employers – is crucial. Fostering a mentally healthy workplace is the new frontier for leading executives, and those looking to maintain a competitive advantage will embrace new approaches to support and inclusion.