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Simply put, mental health affects how we think, feel, and behave. A vital implication at every stage of our lives, mental health can be complicated and hard to understand. From the pressure that we feel in our personal and professional lives, whether it’s taking care of kids, paying bills, maintaining a social life, or keeping up with work demands – do we have the proper coping mechanisms to deal with stressful experiences?
Mental health is now front and center in the workplace. When things like employee burnout or workplace tragedy strike on top of already stacking personal stressors, we are faced with overwhelming pressure. If left untreated, mental health directly impacts your physical health, amounting to mental and physical issues. From an organizational point of view, how does this affect the workplace? To better understand, let’s look at the relationship between mental and physical health.
The Link Between Physical and Mental Health
Another study conducted by JAMA Psychiatry documented that physical activity in adults, even in small amounts, substantially lowers the risk of depression, the leading cause of mental health-related disease burden. Furthermore, 11.5% of incident depression could have been prevented if people were marginally more active. JAMA study also found that there was a 25% lower risk of depression from 2.5 hrs per week of brisk walking, a very accessible way to support one’s mental health.
When exposed to a stressful event, our bodies release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones put our bodies in a state of emergency by affecting our heart rate, digestive system, and immune system before we allow ourselves back into a state of relaxation. While not harmful when exerted in the short term, prolonged stress/anxiety can adversely affect the body. Physical symptoms of chronic stress can include:
- Increased body aches and pains
- Headaches and migraines
- Weight gain/weight loss
- Disruption of sleep
- Depressed immune system
- Endocrine system disorders
What This Means for Your Business
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion annually in the United States, or $1,685 per employee.
Depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year at a cost of $17 billion to $44 billion to employers, according to CDC. A number of studies, including one from the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, identified several job stressors that can contribute to depression: challenging job demands, low control over one’s job, long hours, and a lack of friends at work. Furthermore, a 2018 study found that work stress, such as long hours and job strain, is a leading cause of suicide among U.S. workers.
When mental health concerns go unattended, the body reacts to the overload in various ways, contributing to more employees taking sick days and using the company’s health insurance to cover their physical ailments.
Absenteeism, although an indirect cost, has a very high cost for the business. Because of this employers might need to hire people for backup or have team members work overtime. Some studies show presenteeism, another indirect yet costly result, is costing U.S. companies over $150 billion a year.
A direct cost that takes a hit on the bottom line are higher insurance rates. Employees make more visits to the doctor, go to the emergency rooms, and take more prescription medications. Which in turn has a knock-off effect on healthcare costs come renewal time. However, employers that support mental health see average healthcare savings for every $1 invested in evidence-based programs.
And lastly, it impacts your company’s reputation. A perfect example of this can be seen on Glassdoor reviews, where disgruntled employees want to make it known that they are unhappy, stressed, and leaving the company because of it.
What Can Be Done?
It’s important to acknowledge your current culture, policies, and values and be open to strategies that can be adapted to promote employee well-being. A simple solution that all managers can do today is to increase communication between their teams to gain insight into the problems they’re experiencing right now. What begins as a simple conversation between your manager and employee can lead to a transformational change.
Understanding the needs of your employees as an individual and as a group guides managers in developing the necessary support to improve inclusion and engagement. With increased dialogue and education on well-being, it provides opportunities for employees to be more active in direction and decision-making. It also aids in reducing the stigma of mental health in the workplace, which increases the chances that health resources will be utilized.
Preventative care is far less costly than its diagnostic counterpart. Making mental health care available and easily accessible can prevent unnecessary health care spending by ensuring employees are holistically healthy. Empowering employees to care for their mental health will offset avoidable physical health conditions while also contributing to an organization’s morale, productivity, and profit.
Your people are just that, human beings. We all struggle one way or another throughout our lives with frustrations, anxieties, depression, mood swings, or simply having a bad day. So let’s put initiatives to treat them just like that, and all the business success will fall into place. Addressing mental health helps your physical health which is good for your business.