Each year, one in five adults in the U.S. will experience mental illness. Yet only one in three who need help will get it. As a result, many people will either miss work or will get less done on the job. The latter is known as presenteeism, when people go to work while struggling with physical or mental health issues. This is why focusing on employee mental health is so important for your bottom line.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. But WHO also found that for every $1 spent on treating common mental health concerns, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.
According to the Society for Human Resources Management, many employers are enhancing emotional and mental health benefits. Types of support can range from managing stress, to treating invisible disabilities such as anxiety and depression.
The potential benefits of supporting employee mental health include:
- Increased productivity: Research shows that nearly 86 percent of employees treated for depression report improved work performance. And in some studies, treatment of depression has been shown to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism by 40 to 60 percent.
- Increased retention: In a 2019 survey of more than 1,500 employees nationwide, more than a third of the respondents said they had left a job due at least in part to mental health. Of these, 59 percent said mental health was the primary reason.
- Decreased health care and disability costs: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, rates of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are twice as high in adults with serious mental illness.
The connection between physical health and mental health prompted the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable to release a report called “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis.” It urges employers to provide comprehensive programs for the prevention and treatment of mental illness. “The cost of doing nothing is higher than investing in evidence-based prevention and treatment,” the report found.
How Your Company Can Support Employee Mental Health
A nationwide employee survey found that what people want the most in the workplace are trainings and more easily accessible information about where to go or who to ask for mental health support. A more open culture about mental health at work is also important to employees, according to the survey.
With those findings in mind, here are five ways your company can support employee mental health:
1. Understand How Mental Health Impacts Your Employees
“It’s important for managers to be trained to recognize the signs of emotional distress so they can react in a supportive rather than a punitive way,” says Jerome Schultz, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School. “Some employees need people around them to say, ‘Hey, I see you might be feeling stressed. Maybe now is a good time to try some breathing exercises or go take a walk.’”
Here are some proactive steps you can take to understand and assess your employees’ mental health:
- Make mental health training mandatory for your company’s leaders to help them be more aware of and invested in this aspect of their employees’ well-being.
- Train managers on what to do if they see signs of emotional distress or substance abuse.