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Success at work is measured in many ways. Hitting productivity goals, achieving financial gains, and completing projects on time are all ways for a company to know it’s doing well. Employees are key to reaching these success measures, and the importance of their mental health can’t be ignored in the pursuit of success.
Ensuring employees are mentally well benefits both your organization and your team members.
Why workplace mental health matters
According to the State of Mental Health In America report, anxiety has reached the highest level since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and the depression rate has tripled.
Depression has become one of America’s most costly illnesses, to the tune of over $51 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity. Additionally, it costs over $26 billion in direct treatment costs each year.
Even when the issues that cause depression in an employee are unrelated to work, their mental health affects their job performance.
Vice President of Employee Benefits for USI Insurance Services Bill Riegner says, "People diagnosed with depression will miss, on average, 19 days of work per year, as well as 46 days of being at work but unproductive. When a person has depression and is diagnosed with another disease, the costs go exponentially higher.”
When untreated, mental issues can cause disability and unemployment rates to rise, resulting in employees who are hired and trained but can no longer do their jobs. Additional time and money must be invested into finding, onboarding, and training a new employee.
What causes poor mental health at work
Although mental health states are complex and often have multiple causal factors, there are clear connections between an employee’s working environment and their mental health. Research has shown that “the physical environment of the workplace and organizational climate are some of the important aspects of employee well-being.”
Negative, stressful work environments increase the probability of mental health-related challenges, including anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders.
Over 75% of the employees working in a toxic environment also say their environment negatively impacts their mental health, compared to the 28% who are not in a negative environment.
- Verbal or physical harassment
- Unsafe work conditions
- The absence of feeling a sense of belonging
- Overwork, including a lack of time off
- Pay inequality
- Inadequate mental health support
In other words, employees working in organizational cultures with existing structural issues around physical and psychological safety, overwork, low pay, micromanagement, and possibly unsafe work conditions feel the mental health effects.
How employee mental health affects the workplace
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says mental issues affect employees in several ways. Of course, they can negatively alter job performance and productivity, but mental issues also affect employees’ communication with coworkers and their physical capability to function daily.
The CDC’s statistics show that depression interferes with an employee’s ability to complete “physical job tasks about 20% of the time.” It also can cause a 35% reduction in cognitive performance.
Not all employees who suffer from depression seek treatment. Those who report moderate depression get help 57% of the time. Those who report severe depression are even less likely to seek help. They turn to professionals only 40% of the time.
In fact, the CDC says that employees with a high risk of depression had “the highest health care costs during the three years after an initial health risk assessment.”
Why is there such a discrepancy between how many employees have issues with mental health and how many seek medical or psychiatric help?
What employers can do to support mental health
Toxic or negative work environments are not immutable or inevitable. When workplace leaders champion policies and practices that acknowledge and support the humanity and well-being of their workforces, change is possible.
Each workplace is a unique ecosystem, with individuals and dynamics that only exist in that place. However, some policies and practices can be adapted and implemented in every workplace to improve employees’ mental health and well-being.
These include mental health first aid training, supervisor training, normalizing mental health conversations, burnout prevention, employee mental health support, and clearly communicating mental health benefits.
Practice mental health first aid
Employers can offer a program to employees—including management and HR professionals—called Mental Health First Aid by the National Council for Behavioral Health.
The courses in the program are designed to help people “notice and support an individual who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use concern or crisis.” The program also gives employees communication skills and knowledge of connecting someone with mental health issues to employee resources.
Equip your leaders to help
Forbes agrees that increasing awareness so employees notice when a coworker is in crisis is an important step in supporting mental health, and emphasizes that training managers to do this is critical.
Give your leaders opportunities to attend training that provides the skills they need to support the mental health of everyone in the workplace. That training should include the knowledge that not all employees' mental issues can be treated the same way, and managers will need to approach each employee individually.
Normalizing conversations about mental health
Harvard Health reports that “the stigma attached to having a psychiatric disorder is such that employees may be reluctant to seek treatment.” They fear it may jeopardize their jobs, so they avoid treatment, despite the fact that a recognized and properly treated mental health issue can “alleviate symptoms for the employee and improve job performance.”
A shift in attitudes by employees and employers about mental disorders is needed to address the importance of mental health in the workplace. Understanding that treatment does not always result in a quick fix is also essential so employees feel confident treating their mental issues.
Give employees tools
Most employees keep an important mental health tool in their pocket—a smartphone. There are many mental health apps that companies can offer to support healthy habits, such as meditation, breathing exercises, better sleep hygiene, and increased focus and creativity.
Help prevent burnout
When an employee has emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by “excessive and prolonged stress,” they are likely to be overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands of their job.
Help Guide says the most common signs of work burnout include feeling like there’s little control over work, getting no recognition or rewards for good work, job expectations that are unclear or too demanding, being assigned unchallenging work, or an environment that is high-pressure or chaotic.
Minimizing these situations can help prevent employee burnout.
Make mental health policies clear
Let employees know their mental health is important to the company and addressing mental issues is encouraged at all levels of employment. Ensure that health plans offered to all employees include adequate mental health coverage, and regularly discuss mental health issues in the workplace.
The more conversations about mental health are happening, the less stigma employees will feel surrounding them. Encouraging leaders to talk about their own mental health struggles will normalize this even further.
What happens when you have a mentally healthy workplace
Fortunately, for employers and employees, a healthier work environment is closely connected to the success of a company or organization. When employees know their well-being is supported, they’re more productive and both mentally and physically healthier. .
Recently, the Validation Institute—an independent, third-party organization dedicated to improving the cost and effectiveness of healthcare—reviewed Spring Health’s comprehensive employee mental health platform, and found benefits for employers and employees.
Here are some highlights from the full report:
- Spring Health is the first and only comprehensive mental health solution to achieve a proven net-positive return on investment.
- The largest savings are driven by reductions in physical health spending, especially from participants with high-cost, chronic medical conditions. Notably, Spring Health’s program drives the highest savings for those with chronic conditions.
- Improvement in employee mental health creates significant value for self-funded and fully insured customers. In as little as six months, turnover was reduced by 22% and absenteeism by 12% among employees participating in the program.
Reductions in turnover and absenteeism illustrate a lessening of the negative work conditions that cause poor mental health at work, spilling over into physical health. These results show employees improving their mental and physical health, allowing them to be more present and productive in the workplace.
Learn how therapy and coaching can help your employees process and explore their feelings, create goals and action plans, and keep them accountable.