Addressing mental health in the workplace can save a company money through productivity and retention of trained employees.
While there are no clear measurements, presenteeism can impact the bottom line, said Demetrios Marousis, director of behavior health, Highmark Health.
“Many employees are suffering, not only themselves but with family members,” he said. “They show up for work, but they are not present and that, along with time away from the job, are important variables for employers.”
Karen Young, founder and president, HR Resolutions, agreed.
“If you are not operating at 100 %, you aren’t producing 100%,” she said.
A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) said 15% of working-age adults were estimated to have a mental health disorder in 2019. Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, said, “We know that has at least doubled since COVID.
According to a study by Health Canal LLC, untreated workplace mental illness costs the U.S. $3.7 trillion each year. Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation with $149 billion.
The report says too, the annual spending on mental health treatment in the United States is $43 billion, which is only 1.1% of the cost of unmet workplace mental health needs.
According to data supplied by the American Psychiatric Association, employees with unresolved depression experience a 35% reduction in productivity, contributing to a loss to the U.S. economy of $210.5 billion a year in absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical costs.
And Glazer said 62% of missed workdays are attributed to mental health.
To improve workforce productivity, Young said the overall culture of the company must be one of caring.
“Supervisors, managers and leaders should know their workforce,” she said. “That way, they can ask how things are going when they see a change in behavior or a change in productivity or attitude.”
Young said trained leadership can open a dialogue to see what is going on with the employee but must be careful so as not to move into disability accommodation discussions.
“Just being on track with where they are can open the door to find out if the issue is work related or lifestyle related,” Young said. “And you have to be empathetic.”
“There is an increasing emphasis on the importance of empathy among top management,” she said. “The platinum rule is to do unto others as they want you to do.”
Glazer said employers have to get past the stigma to help employees get through their issues. They can offer things like flexible hours or make sure they are taking their paid time off to tend to their needs.
“Let them know you think they are number one,” she said.
“Employees showing up without being present and time away from the job are important variables for employers,” Marousis said. “Employees will put off treatment, saying the issue will pass and don’t identify that it is treatable. When they do seek care, often they are challenged as to where to find it.”
Marousis said there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues which makes finding care difficult. He said people talk about the care they receive for medical issues and will recommend a doctor, while people being treated for mental health often keep it to themselves.
“Innovative employers promote providers and ease of access,” he said. “That makes it less of a stigma.”
Employers need to look at what it costs to recruit, train and retain employees and offer care versus the cost of turnover when an employee is unable to perform the job, Marousis said.
“Companies should have Employee Assistance Programs. They are so inexpensive,” Young said. “Human resource personnel are trained in mediation and listening, but when a serious issue arises, the employee needs a professional.”
Crisis counseling, she said, can help get to the issue quickly, usually in three to five sessions.
Marousis agreed, citing a program called Mental Health First Aid which trains people how to create opportunities to talk, reduces stigma and judgement, and engages the employee more quickly.
He also cited virtual providers who can offer employees private consultations at their convenience which makes getting care easier.
Employers, Marousis said, can help promote access to treatment by putting out information on what mental health disorders look like and provide access to providers that can help.
“We’re seeing more and more employers doing this through email campaigns and posters in the workplace which is translating to more people seeking help,” he said.
The increased interest is cost driven. Marousis said the total cost of care if mental health is not treated is three times what it would be. He cited an example of someone with diabetes and depression. If someone is depressed, he is more likely not managing his diabetes and that increases the cost of care.
“Leaders are responsible for productivity, but they have to be nice to their employees,” Young said. “That doesn’t mean they have to accept emotions, but they need to be empathic. That way, the employee is more likely to open up.”
If the employee is having minor issues that can be solved short-term with lightening the workload or taking a day off, the supervisor should work with that, she said. “It demonstrates that you hear them and care.”
However, Young said supervisors should get human resources involved when more significant issues arise because, as managers, they don’t want to get involved in medical issues.
“Human resources can discuss corporate programs that are available and outline benefits,” she said. “And they can look at formal accommodations if it is a long-term issue.”
Employers are starting to recognize the importance of treating mental health issues, Marousis said. When someone is not performing, access to care gives them permission to get treatment.
“There is still an expectation of productivity,” he said. “Letting employees know if they are not okay, gives the company the chance to help them get treatment.”