Deteriorating mental health among employees poses a significant risk to business with consequences including poor productivity, high turnover, and increased absences. Here’s how employers can tackle the threats
A global pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, geopolitical tensions, and war across Europe have all placed unprecedented stressors on people.
And there is evidence this is leading to a widespread worsening of mental health.
For instance, the Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) Health on Demand 2023 research revealed that almost half (47%) of employees feel stressed in their everyday lives.
More than half (52%) said they have worked in the past year while feeling mentally unwell.
Meanwhile, the International SOS Assistance Centre has seen a 5% increase in the number of mental illness-related assistance requestions during the first half of 2023 compared to 2022.
A growing threat to business operations
This growth in mental health issues creates significant risks for organisations.
Without effective support, mental illness can impact an individual’s capacity to work productively, increase sickness-related absences and make it harder for people to retain or gain work.
In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 12 billion working days are already lost every year to depression and anxiety alone.
MMB says other negative outcomes in the workplace can include poor morale, lowered employee engagement, and higher rates of staff turnover. It also leads to a higher number of direct health insurance claims and increased premiums.
“Employees spend one-third of their lives at work - which means employers are uniquely positioned to support employees’ mental health,”
The workplace can also contribute to deteriorating mental health among employees.
For instance, poor working environments, including discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, low job control and job insecurity all pose a risk to mental health.
Dr Oliver Harrison, CEO of Koa Health, a provider of digital-first mental healthcare, said: “Employees spend one-third of their lives at work - which means employers are uniquely positioned to support employees’ mental health, both by avoiding harm and promoting comprehensive benefits that are inclusive and easy to navigate.”
International SOS’ Dr Rodrigo Rodriguez-Fernandez added: “Overlooking mental health issues in the workplace comes with a significant price, both emotionally and financially.
”The repercussions touch everyone, from individual employees to the organisation as a whole.”
How to safeguard against mental health risks
Mental health resilience for global workforces is critical to organisational health and success.
The good news is that employees trust the businesses they work for when it comes to providing mental health support.
And employers that make an effort to tackle these issues can make a real difference. MMB’s research shows that employees who feel supported by their employer are 15 percentage points less likely to report feeling stressed in everyday life.
”HR and risk professionals should tackle these issues. Problems to look for include unhealthy work hours, isolation, a toxic blame culture, lack of control, and even bullying and harassment.”
The broker says that there are three key steps that those responsible for mental health risk should take.
- Increase awareness of mental health
- Consider how work design and culture impacts mental health
- Provide access to comprehensive mental health-related benefits
MMB said: ”Job demands are a major risk factor for mental ill health – health: work pressures, poor leadership, and toxic culture are the main reasons cited for potential employee burnout.
”To mitigate mental health risks, HR and risk professionals should tackle these issues. Problems to look for include unhealthy work hours, isolation, a toxic blame culture, lack of control, and even bullying and harassment.”
A step-by-step guide to improving mental health throughout an organisation
International SOS’ framework for organisations to safeguard the mental health of their employees:
- Foster a supportive work culture and ensure leadership commitment: Create a workplace culture and environment that prioritises and encourages open dialogue on mental health. Integrate mental health initiatives into relevant policies and practices that support it.
- Promote mental health awareness: Implement comprehensive mental health awareness campaigns to reduce stigma and encourage open dialogue.
- Provide accessible resources: Ensure employees have a toolkit of mental health resources at their fingertips, from counselling to self-guidance materials.
- Adapt to individual needs: Offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate individual needs and reduce work-related stress.
- Training and education: Roll out mental health training, enabling everyone to spot, understand and assist with mental health challenges.
- Monitor and assess: Seek feedback and continuously monitor the mental health of employees through surveys and assessments to adapt programmes as needed.
- Use Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Provide EAPs that offer confidential counselling and support services to employees. Digitally enabled mental health care allows organisations to maximise EAP and existing services uptake and widen access to care while containing or significantly reducing costs.