Workplace Mental Health: It Pays To Be Proactive
By Ryan Galloway
The new year is well underway, and all those grueling Q4 budgeting meetings are finally in the rear-view mirror. And yet, one factor that impacts productivity, employee retention and, ultimately, the bottom line, is likely to have been overlooked.
Workplace mental health is a crucial factor to consider when building and maintaining a successful business. With mental health and substance abuse disorders costing American businesses an estimated $80 to $100 billion annually, many companies are realizing that overlooking it is something they can no longer afford.
The Cost of Silence
Mental health issues, from depression to anxiety to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), affect almost 58 million adults in the U.S. That means that just over 26% of Americans ages 18 and older (the demographic that makes up the American workforce) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Mental health challenges were once taboo subjects in the workplace, but as Americans now spend roughly nine hours per day at work, silence is an increasingly costly strategy.
A recent study examining the financial impact of 25 chronic physical and mental issues identified depression as the single most expensive ailment for employers. Anxiety, an extraordinarily common occurrence in the stressful modern workplace, ranked fifth; with obesity, arthritis, and back and neck pain ranking second, third and fourth, respectively.
Subsequent studies have noted that the indirect costs of untreated mental health challenges — namely lost productivity and absenteeism — frequently exceed a company’s direct spending on health insurance and pharmacy coverage. Meanwhile, treatment rates for these issues remain low owing to a range of factors including time, expense and the lingering stigma of pursuing mental health solutions. As a result, companies risk much when they remain quiet on the subject of employee mental health.
A Proactive Approach
A recent white paper released by the American Psychiatric Foundation paints an optimistic picture of organizations that take an active role in improving the mental well-being of their workforce. The white paper noted that employers who instituted proactive mental health programs routinely saw considerable financial benefit. A depression screening program alone showed a return on investment of 1.7:1. Similarly, 80% of employees treated for various mental illnesses reported significantly higher rates of efficacy and job satisfaction.
So what steps should a business take toward a smarter mental health program? No matter the size of your organization (or your budget), the first steps are surprisingly simple.
Determine (or estimate) the ultimate cost that depression, anxiety and other disorders pose to your business. Start with absenteeism and low productivity. Consider asking Human Resources to conduct an anonymous survey.
Evaluate your current benefits program and determine how comprehensive your mental health coverage is. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider questions about the options they offer.
Decide what kind of coverage you can afford. While the initial cost may seem daunting, it’s likely that the budgeting exercise described above will incur a serious cost sink of which you were previously unaware.
Consider developing an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP. These can include counseling, referral services and other options for employees who may be struggling with mental health issues.
From there, the course ultimately depends on your organization’s needs. Your HR department may be equipped to implement the new procedures. If not, you may need to bring on a consultant or two. But no matter the size of your company, if you find yourself thinking, “mental health isn’t impacting my organization,” you might want to take another look at your bottom line.