One in five people in Canada experience mental health problems and this number is on the rise. Last week marked the Mental Health Week, a longstanding event spearheaded by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to promote awareness and strategies around mental illness and addictions. It is now an ideal time for business organizations to take stock in how well they are supporting mental health initiatives in their workplace – and why they should do it better.
The Cost of Doing Nothing
The financial fallout from lost productivity relating to mental illness is costing Canadian businesses an estimated $6.6 billion annually, and mental health is the number one cause of disability claims, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Even so, according to a recent report by the CMHA, most organizations lag behind in implementing key initiatives to improve mental health in the workplace.
What a Struggling Employee Experiences
When employees begin to slide down the mental health continuum towards the unhealthy end, most do their best to hide or cover up their symptoms because of the stigma associated with mental health and, particularly, mental illness. People hold their cards close to their chest when it comes to mental health.
They often feel ashamed that they are having difficulties or feel self-conscious of what others may think. They push themselves to present as if everything is fine on the outside while they suffer in silence on the inside. It usually isn’t until employees experience more severe symptoms and are trending closer towards short-term disability that there may be signs of social isolation, increased irritability, or a decline in their personal grooming.
How can employers take action?
Organizations should look at implementing initiatives around policy creation, communication, training resources, and even treatment: This can include creating policies and mandates around mental health at a corporate level; sharing resources through internal marketing channels to promote awareness; giving management and HR the training to identify issues and handle them successfully; and, providing employees with self-help tools and programs.
Technology is now playing an important role in the treatment of mental illness, opening up ways for people to access treatment well before face-to-face talk therapy or medication may be required. Investing in mental health initiatives for leaders and employees of an organization can help in several ways.
1. Reduce stigma and create a positive workplace
Let’s face it, there is stigma surrounding mental health because it can be a tricky topic to discuss at work. By revealing issues, people fear becoming isolated, viewed as abnormal, and considered unfit for the job. But, employers have an important role to play in supporting employees with education about mental health and creating open dialogue. Providing resources that promote awareness can help create an accessible and positive workplace, one that also promotes engagement and attracts talent.
2. Focus on Early Intervention/Prevention
Considering that we spend about 60% of our time at work, and that work can be rife with stressors – workload, deadlines, behaviours and personalities of co-workers, management styles, worries relating to job security, and so-on, educating about healthy ways to cope with stress makes sense. It can help address issues before they become debilitating – and costly for the organization.
3. Treat Issues to Reduce Impact
If an employee is already suffering from mental health symptoms, you may or may not know about it. But, having those resources already in place for an employee to use can get them the help they need quickly. This is where the role of an HR manager is critical to find high-quality evidence-based options to ensure success. Providing a variety of options for an employee to get treatment – whether that’s through your benefits plan, a wellness counselor on staff, online programs, or a combination of these, will help reduce suffering for that employee and help address their reduced functioning at work.
4. Improve Productivity and Engagement
When you are physically fit, you tend to be healthier. It’s the same with mental health. Improving the mental health of your employees – making them mentally resilient to stress – can improve thinking, decision-making, workflow, and relationships at work. All of these translate to increased productivity. And your employees will see you playing a positive role in helping them to be their best selves.
5. Reduce Costs and Risk
Promoting mental health can also be a wise financial decision for businesses. Investing in a mentally healthy workplace can have a cost savings effect by reducing absenteeism (employees frequently absent due to illness) and presenteeism (at work, but ill and distracted), as well as disability claims and lost productivity. It also contributes to helping you meet the guidelines for workplace health and safety to reduce your legal exposure.
As a responsible employer, supporting your employees’ mental health is the right thing to do. And it’s also simply good business. There are many resources available to help with the task of getting started; here are a couple: