There’s no doubt about it, the last few years have taken a toll on the mental health of many people. The impact of the pandemic along with other factors have caused a sharp increase in employee mental health issues. Employees are experiencing anxiety, depression and heavy stress at unprecedented numbers. It’s time to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health and look at how HR and companies as a whole can address these issues from the top down.
The Real Mental Health Costs to Employers
Causes for mental health illnesses are various, and include family, financial or personal reasons. Often, they originate from employee stress linked to overwork or other factors related to the workplace. Independently of the reason, employees that feel unwell enough to miss work has a price far beyond the pure medical claim cost. Loss of productivity, high employee turnover reduced flexibility in competitive hiring landscape, presenteeism (the fact that an employee attends the workplace while being sick and therefore not productive) add to those costs.
Global Lost productivity as a result of two of the most common mental disorders, anxiety and depression, costs the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year, according to WHO.
Switzerland According to a survey from PK Rück published in 2022, work breaks due to mental health issues have increased by 20% in 2021. One in two new disability insurance claims are of psychological origin.
Germany 4.8% is the share that indirect and direct costs related to mental illnesses cost the German economy.
France Mental illness cost 80 billion EURO to the French economy every year. 25% of those are indirect and therefore impact directly the countries productivity.
UK Deloitte, in its 2020 report, mental health and employers, estimates the real cost to British employers to range at around 43 Million pounds. Around 7 Million being absence costs, around 8.5 million are considered turnover costs and close to 30 Million belong to the category of presenteeism.
USA Only the costs of depression cost the USA 188 billion USD every year. 22 billion are attributed to absenteeism, and 32 billion is the impact on productivity loss.
Dealing With Employee Mental Health at the HR Level
When employees are struggling with mental health this can create a huge issue from the HR perspective. If a company doesn’t do anything to address the struggles, employee absences and turnover can increase, causing an HR nightmare. However, when an organization addresses mental health, you won’t see these issues because employees know they have resources and don’t feel stigma about their experience.
Employee wellbeing has been a hot topic on the HR level for some time now. Afterall, they are the ones who typically select and implement the employee benefits. However, with 43% of employers seeing an uptick in reasonable accommodation requests due to mental health(according to law firm Fisher Phillips), we have to start looking deeper than just the typical medical benefits.
HR does have routes to address mental health in some ways. We have seen a growing market of employee wellbeing benefits such as employee assistance programs, counseling services, and even meditation and mindfulness applications. Companies have had great results with these programs when HR builds awareness around them and utilization is high.
While implementing systems and programs can be a great step forward, HR cannot provide the sole solution to employee mental health issues. Mental health in the workplace has to be considered from the top down to truly create a culture that will prosper during these times.
Employee Mental Health is a Company Wide Issue
Swica, the largest Employee Disability Insurance in Switzerland in a survey has found out that an employee disability due to mental reasons in average last 7 month – far longer than standard. In 57% of cases the employee mental health illness originates from conflicts at the workplace. A clear mandate for HR take responsibility and action.
Deloitte in UK also assumes that many employees may not openly communicate on their situation, in fear of a stigma. Some other may simply choose to work more remotely in order to avoid confrontation.
In order to end the stigma surrounding employee mental health, it has to be addressed from the top down. Leadership must acknowledge that employees are struggling with mental issues and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. An organization can have all the solutions and tools available, but it wouldn’t matter if an employee feels negative about approaching a manager about their situation.
Leadership should start open communication from the very top. Executives and management should acknowledge their own struggles. The more leaders talk about their experiences, the easier it will be for everyone to feel comfortable to speak up. They can also speak to how the company cares about mental wellness and can work with HR to communicate the programs they have available for employees to utilize when they face challenges themselves.
As speaking about mental health becomes less taboo in the workplace we can use it as an opportunity to care for employees on a new level. When we take a holistic approach to our employees, and see them as more than just a person filling a seat, that’s when we start to truly create a culture of wellbeing. This culture will have an impact not only from an HR and retention point of view, but on the overall function and success of organizations as a whole.
Corporate action's to mental health include:
Management of psycho-social risks
Implementation of healthy working conditions
Provision of flexible work arrangements
Creation of violence and harassment free workspace
Low-Threshold support (e.g. digital)
Return to work programs
Supported employee initiatives