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Employee mental health & human performance

Updated: May 24


Mental health problems are acknowledged as a major cause of productivity problems in workplaces across the world. In fact, the American Heart Association reports a dramatic 15% increase in depression and anxiety over the past decade.


Mental illness not only has negative impacts on an individual's personal life but also their professional life. It's crucial for employers to prioritise mental health in the workplace by providing resources, direct, easy and private access to mental health coaching and counselling and creating a workplace that actively reduces stigma and discrimination about mental illness. This article reveals the extent of mental health problems in workplaces around the world and offers some solutions for human resources teams and executive leaders.


Evidence on impacts of mental illness in the workplace

In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 5 people in the workforce suffer from some form of mental illness each year. Women are almost twice as likely to experience problems as men and 12.7% of all sick days in the UK are attributed to mental health symptoms. The UK Mental Health Foundation has more information.On the upside, investment in mental health by UK businesses is said to have saved a staggering £8 billion a year. Other research highlights that the return on an investment of £20,676 will result in a next profitability of £83,278.


In Germany, mental health issues are the most common cause of absenteeism and presentism in the workplace, accounting for 15% of all sick leave days in Germany. Furthermore, the study found that employees with mental health problems are on sick leave for an average of 34.4 days per year, compared to an average of 15.4 days for employees without mental health problems.

There are new European guidelines for assessing mental stress in the workplace developed by the International SOS Foundation, together with German, Austrian, and Swiss partners. There is also a significant amount of action research focused on identifying the main risk to mental health posed by some workplaces environments.


In the US, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 1 in 5 US adults (18.3%) reported experiencing any mental illness in 2016. Mental health issues are the most common cause of absenteeism and presentism in the workplace, leading to decreased job performance and productivity. Employers can promote awareness about mental health and offer clinical screenings for depression, provide insurance coverage for mental health counselling, and create dedicated spaces for relaxation activities to mitigate the negative impact of mental health disorders in the workplace [2]. Public health researchers can also develop guides and evaluation tools for workplace health programs and establish training programs for business leaders to build and sustain mentally healthy workplaces [2].


This highlights the significant impact that mental health issues can have on productivity and overall organisational success. But what solutions are available to you as an HR executive or as an organisational leader?


Solutions to the negative impacts of mental illness

There are several strategies that companies could adopt to help workers with mental health issues. Employers can promote awareness about mental health and offer clinical screenings for depression, provide easy, direct and confidential access to mental health coaching and counselling, and create dedicated spaces for relaxation activities to mitigate the negative impact of mental health disorders in the workplace.


The Human Resources Executive offers seven strategies that leaders can embrace to promote mental health in the workplace:

  • Leadership–Role model a mental-health-friendly workplace from the upper echelons.

  • Organisational/Environmental Support–Implement an accessible mental-health plan

  • Communication–Frequently share information about policies, programs, benefits, resources and training.

  • Programs and Benefits–Offer comprehensive benefits that centre mental health.

  • Engagement–Invite employees at all levels to take part in decision-making about mental health in the workplace.

  • Community Partnerships–Involve community stakeholders in executing the mental-health plan.

  • Reporting Outcomes: Continuously enhance offerings to improve employee wellbeing.

The American Heart Association recently held a roundtable with US experts and CEOs of major organisations in America. They subsequently published a report listing the commitments made by CEOs to addressing mental health in the workplace entitled: Mental Health - a Workforce Crisis. It's worth looking at, as it offers practical steps that these leaders have agreed to champion in their workplaces to promote mental health.


Finally, public health researchers should prioritise investigation in to workplace mental health and develop guides and evaluation tools for workplace health programs. They can establish training programs for business leaders to build and sustain mentally healthy workplaces. It is important to note that there is no complete solution to this issue, but implementing these strategies can help alleviate the problem and make it safer for staff to seek help.

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