In May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed burnout in the workplace as an official “occupational phenomenon” in their International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The ICD describes burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed.”
This new entry into the ICD demonstrates the tangible, adverse impact of mental illness in the workplace. The news also gives employers an excellent opportunity to speak on a subject many may find difficult to address. But, like many issues that are tough to have an honest discussion about, it’s essential to address the topic of mental health issues in the workplace.
The reach of mental health issues in the workplace in America is vast. According to BenefitsPro, an estimated 1 out of 5 adults in the U.S. experiences a mental illness at some point in their life. So, a large portion of your workforce has or is experiencing a mental health issue. But the adverse impact of these issues affects both employers and employees.
A different BenefitsPro article explains employers in America lose close to $225.8 billion annually to stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues. In fact, per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety alone costs employers almost $35 billion from lost or reduced productivity in the workplace.
These numbers demonstrate the effect of mental health issues at work, but they’re only the surface of the actual impact these issues can have on your company. In this article, we’ll detail how mental health issues can harm both employers and employees and what your business can do to slow or halt these effects.
The Cost of Mental Health Issues at Work
As mentioned above, mental health affects roughly 20 percent of workers. And this 20 percent costs U.S. businesses nearly $230 billion every year. Plus, the effects of stress alone are almost as costly. Stress, by itself, costs American companies over $300 billion per year. Similarly, depression alone costs businesses more than $44 billion annually.
Mental health issues are so costly because of the myriad of adverse effects they have on individuals. Lost productivity, absenteeism, employee turnover, increased medical and disability costs, and conflicts at work are all results of untreated mental health issues. One-fifth of all respondents in a recent Mind Share Partners’ survey said they voluntarily left roles due to mental health reasons.
But maybe even worse, is the rate at which employers act to help employees struggling with mental health issues. Per a new Willis Towers Watson’s survey, only 46 percent of employers who responded have taken any action around mental and behavioral health for 2019. Similarly, of those with mental illness, almost three out of five didn’t receive health services in the previous year.
So, now we know the staggering cost of mental health issues on both your staff and your business. The next question is, what can we do to reduce this impact? Read on to find out.
Addressing Mental Health Issues in the Workplace
There are several strategies your firm can use to help employees deal with mental health issues. Any of these strategies are viable and can be combined with others to boost their effectiveness.
1. Communication and Education
The first strategy your company can use to address mental health issues among your employees is to use clear and effective communication and education. One of the most significant impediments to reducing the adverse impact of mental health issues on your employees is a lack of knowledge.
One of the most substantial barriers to improving mental health treatment is the stigma that surrounds the subject. Dispel myths and negative stigmas that surround mental health treatment by educating your staff about the real, adverse effects of mental health issues.
Similarly, teach your employees best practices to deal with mental health issues as they occur. And make sure your education plan includes programs such programs as stress and conflict management, budgeting 101, or mindfulness and resiliency training.
Finally, make sure you are clearly and frequently communicating your firm’s mental health training and education resources. If your company doesn’t emphasize internal communication, these programs won’t receive attention and engagement they deserve. And, if your staff isn’t utilizing the benefits you provide, it doesn’t help anyone to have them.
2. Leadership Training
We already know you can ease the impact of mental illnesses in the workplace through communication and education. The next step to reduce these illnesses impact is to train your leadership/management team. Educating employees is an excellent method to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
But your firm won’t shake this stigma unless it gets buy-in by your leadership team. According to a 2019 study by MindShare Partners, C-level and executive director respondents listed a lack of knowledge or understanding of workplace mental health as the number one obstacle their company faces regarding supporting and providing resources for mental health at work.
It’s just as vital your managers learn to spot signs of potential mental illness, as well as have intelligent and empathetic conversations about it with employees. Your leaders need to know the importance of speaking openly about mental illness rather than avoiding the topic.
3. Employee Benefits
The third and final method your firm can use to address mental health issues in the workplace is through your employee benefits program. There is a multitude of benefits you can use to support employees with mental health at work. We’ll briefly touch on a few of these employee benefits here.
The first employee benefit you can use to address mental health at work is telebehavioral healthcare. Telebehavioral health can eliminate wait times and the need to travel for care that’s typically associated with in-person care. Saving time and travel removes two barriers for employees who need mental healthcare.
Your firm can also sponsor employee spending accounts to promote better mental healthcare amongst your staff. Employees can use a flexible spending account, health reimbursement arrangement, or health savings account to cover out-of-pocket mental healthcare expenses for themselves or their families.
These savings vehicles lower employees’ taxable income and give them pre-tax dollars they can use toward a vast list of approved healthcare expenses. For those living with mental illness, there are multiple treatments covered by FSAs and HSAs, which include:
- Prescription medications
- Care provided by a psychiatrist or psychologist
- Specialized treatments, and
- Acupuncture and hypnosis
Also, a crucial benefit for employees with mental illness is an employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs are work-based intervention programs designed to identify and assist employees in resolving issues. These programs
Finally, another employee benefit you can use to help those with mental health issues is health insurance. As an employer, it’s essential you select a health plan that includes mental health coverage. There’s an extensive list of mental health services you should check to see if your health plan covers.
These services include inpatient and outpatient treatment, telebehavioral health, medication, and counseling. Each of these services can be vital to treating mental illnesses. Plus, as already discussed, without these services addressing mental health can lead to exorbitant healthcare bills, or your employees missing out on treatment altogether.
Whether it’s burnout or your plain old, garden-variety depression, there are a range of mental health issues that can have a significant impact on your employees, and business as a whole. But your company can battle back against mental illnesses through communication, education, leadership training, and employee benefits.