Why Employers Should Put More Focus on Mental Health

Health 19 February, 2020

There are many types of mental health disorders and conditions that are common among Americans. Anxiety, which can include PTSD from traumatic events or ongoing anxiety, is the most common type of mental illness in the U.S. Anxiety disorders affect around 40 million adults in the U.S. who are 18 and older.

That means more than 18% of the American population is affected by anxiety disorders.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one in five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness of any kind.

When someone deals with a mental illness or mental health disorder, it can affect all areas of their life, including their professional lives.

Employers should work to put more emphasis on mental health in the workplace, not only for the benefit of employees but because of the business benefits doing so can bring as well.

The following are things to know and reasons for employers to put more focus on mental health.

Work Factors Can Contribute to Mental Health Problems

What goes on at work can actually contribute to employees’ mental health issues. Mental health risks related to the workplace itself include poor communication and management, inadequate policies regarding health and safety, and inflexible work hours.

Other factors that may lead to mental health problems among employees are a lack of support and employees who feel like they don’t have control over their work or decision-making. A lack of clarity on tasks, expectations, and organizational structures can also contribute to or worsen employee mental health.

If you look at these issues, you’ll see that these are also often linked to overall problems in a business, such as a lack of productivity and high turnover rates. It starts to become clearer why businesses need to think about mental health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) led one study and found that mental health disorders like anxiety and depression cost the world economy $1 trillion in lost productivity every year.

Losses Related to Mental Health

When your workplace is one where mental health is not a focus, the following are some of the specific effects:

  • Unhappy employees often mean an increase in absenteeism, and that can impair workflows and cause financial losses.
  • Mental health problems can affect not only productivity but also performance.
  • Corporate culture is affected by mental health—there may be reduced levels of motivation, toxicity, and high staff turnover which can be extremely expensive.
  • Increased workplace accidents and injuries which can lead to worker’s compensation claims.
  • Reduced innovation can occur when mental health isn’t a priority at work. Employees who are dealing with mental health issues, and particularly when these are exacerbated by an unhealthy workplace, are less likely to be creative. Employees may also not feel comfortable sharing their ideas.
  • Many people who have mental health disorders also have co-occurring physical health disorders such as heart disease, diabetes, and disorders affecting muscles, joints and bones. The costs to treat someone with a co-occurring mental health disorder and a physical condition can be two to three times higher than treating a single disorder, meaning higher overall health care costs.
  • Depression interferes with a person’s ability to do physical job tasks, around 20% of the time, according to the CDC and it reduces cognitive performance around 35% of the time. Employees at high risk of depression had the highest health care costs during the three years after an initial assessment of health risks, based on information from the CDC.

What Can You Do as an Employer?

To make mental health more of a focus in your organization, there’s a lot you can do as an employer. Examples include:

  • If you have a corporate wellness program already in place, make mental health a main component of it.
  • Create a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and giving feedback. Also, work to create an office where employees have a say not only in their daily lives and jobs but also in the overall direction of the organization. It’s important employees feel autonomous and in control of what’s happening.
  • As part of wellness initiatives and efforts, look for ways to identify employees at risk, and then put them in contact with the appropriate resources.

If you want to improve your workplace culture, reduce your costs, and have a more productive workplace, it might be time to start considering mental health as a top business priority. Mentally and physically healthy employees can be your greatest business asset.