The Cost of Failing to Address Mental Health in the Workplace

business woman feeling stressed at her desk because of poor mental health

Employers never hesitate to address physical health in their workplace—they offer health insurance, sick day policies, etc. But when it comes to mental health, there is generally less being done to address issues or to mitigate consequential effects. 

With approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiencing a mental illness issue and 71% reporting at least one symptom of severe stress, it’s time for employers to start paying more attention to this pertinent issue. Otherwise, they can face consequences that can cost their company money, productivity, and the well-being of their employees.

Here’s the real cost of failing to address mental health in the workplace:

Productivity costs. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), depression and other mental health issues reduces cognitive performance 35% of the time and interferes with a person’s ability to complete a physical job task 20% of the time. That’s the equivalent of losing at least one workday per week worth of productivity. Could your organization survive that kind of loss?

Bottom line cost. The lost workdays and productivity drop that results from mental health issues is said to cost US businesses between $80 and $100 billion annually. This financial burden is preventable by addressing mental health before it leads to absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Employee burnout. Earlier this year, employee burnout was added to the World Health Organization’s handbook as an official medical condition. When employees experience this, they often lack energy or enthusiasm, mentally “check out” from their job, have a negative attitude in the workplace, along with a decrease in efficiency and consistent attendance.

Health issues and healthcare costs. Even after taking other factors into consideration, employees with a high risk of depression (history, family history) had the highest health care costs during a 3-year health risk assessment by the CDCP. Employers then assume the cost of healthcare, as well as the ramifications of missed workdays.

How can employers do a better job of addressing mental health?

Just as employers spend time putting together a plan that addresses physical health and financial wellness, they should be putting the same effort into creating a plan that helps employees manage their mental health. Here are some ways employers can do so:

Encourage schedule boundaries. Mental health issues are often exacerbated from being stressed or overworked. Since the nature of technology has employees constantly connected to work, it is hard for them to set boundaries for themselves. Encourage employees to not work extended hours, especially when they work remotely, and to not respond to work emails outside of working hours.

Encourage healthy eating and exercising. Healthy eating and exercising have been shown to mitigate the symptoms of mental illness and help people channel their stress in a productive way. Offering incentive programs can help encourage employees to engage in that healthy behavior.

Provide support services. Preventive and treatment services are essential for employers to manage mental health issues for their employees. Only around half of those who suffer from a mental illness issue seek treatment on their own due to cost and stigma concerns. Making those options available as part of a benefits package can urge them to get the help they need.

With the announcement of employee burnout as a legitimate condition, and mental health issues still on the rise, employers should start taking notice. With the right tools and benefits, employers can break the mold and make a positive impact on mental health as soon as they start addressing it.