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The Impacts of Poor Mental Health in Business

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Poor mental health at work is a growing concern for employers, and it’s easy to see why. In today’s workplace, where new technology, automation, and artificial intelligence are rapidly transforming the way we do business, keeping employees engaged and productive is more important than ever. And while many companies offer health care benefits to their employees, they don’t always address the underlying causes of poor mental health.

Mental Health at Work Statistics

It’s no secret that poor mental health impacts our lives, but many people don’t realize how it can also affect our businesses. 

According to a recent study by Willis Towers Watson, nearly half (45 percent) of US workers report having experienced mental illness in their lifetime. Over three-quarters (76 percent) say they have experienced emotional distress due to work pressures in the last 12 months. And more than half (51 percent) say their emotional distress was severe enough to impact their ability to do their job well.

In addition, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that over one-third (36%) of US workers are experiencing symptoms related to depression or anxiety on any given day. 

The impact of poor mental health in the workplace may be evident with symptoms such as: 

  • High turnover rate
  • Employees who frequently call out sick
  • Teams struggling to meet targets
  • Evidence of stress or burnout in employees

Impact on Productivity, Engagement, and Creativity

As reported by the American Psychiatric Association, unresolved depression accounts for a 35% reduction in productivity. It contributes to a loss of $210.5 billion a year to the US economy in the form of productivity loss, medical costs, and absenteeism. In fact, depressed employees miss an average of 31.4 days of work per year.

Anxiety and chronic stress can also prevent employees from fully “showing up” to work, leading to reduced effectiveness and costly mistakes. 

In addition to impacting engagement and productivity, mental health issues can affect our creative efforts and ability to make decisions and solve problems.

A recent Qualtrics study reported that those currently struggling with mental health issues felt creative tasks required more effort to carry out than they otherwise might. The researchers claim that “positive mental health is associated with a faster, slicker runway toward creativity and innovation—and health in general.” People not struggling with mental health issues spent 23% less effort executing creative work than those struggling. 

While it’s easy to understand the negative impacts of poor mental health, it can be difficult for some employers to grasp how much better things would be if their workers’ mental health were to improve. 

In fact, with the right interventions, including therapy, skill-building, and medication, researchers have found that 80% of those treated report improved levels of effectiveness and satisfaction at work.

Improving Workforce Mental Health

Since people spend a large portion of their days at work or performing work-related tasks, it is no surprise that many people claim that many of their mental health issues stem from work. 

Chronic stress, if not managed, can precipitate anxiety and depression. Not surprisingly, work can be a hotbed of stress-related activity that weighs heavily over time. Whether forced to operate within a culture of fear, overwork, and unreasonable expectations or simply not being fulfilled by the work itself, one’s occupation, role, and work environment can have a tremendous impact on mental health. 

Therefore, it makes sense that employers and those in leadership roles would benefit from understanding how the work environment might impact their mental health and that of their employees—whether to the benefit or the detriment of the individuals and the company at large. 

Unfortunately, we have not entirely overcome the societal shame and stigma associated with mental health issues. This has led to a reluctance for many to seek help for, or even talk about, their struggles. 

Employers can help to lessen the stigma and improve mental wellness by openly addressing any underlying cultural impacts on mental health and providing critical education, resources, and support to employees in need. 

There are currently 1.4 million people working in jobs where their employers do not offer any form of employee assistance program (EAP). Though many traditional EAPs are still not equipped to deal effectively with mental health issues, others have begun to provide more robust support in this area. 

The Takeaway

The statistics we’ve listed above point to the need for companies to take an active role in the mental health of their workforce if they care about their employees and want to maintain a healthy bottom line in an increasingly competitive marketplace. 

After all, when your workforce isn’t satisfied or engaged with what they’re doing, it can have a compounding influence, negatively affecting all aspects of business. So, when it comes to mental health, it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive for the health and wellbeing of the company and those who give it life.

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