It is no secret that the Covid pandemic has been a harbinger of stress for many individuals, and that stress is beginning to take its toll. In fact, nearly fifty percent of all working adults in the U.S. cited anxious or depressive symptoms within the last two years, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
Hybrid environments are blurring lines between work and leisure. New technologies like employee activity monitoring and communication app migration across all devices are further smudging those lines and creating a brand new type of technostress that is sure to quicken any deteriorative mental process.
One of every four employees resigning in the last two years listed mental health as a reason for their departure. This pandemic-induced, degradative mental health timebomb is perhaps most apparent in those employed in the healthcare sector. Forced to be saviors (but often reduced to victims), healthcare employees in all departments have experienced significant changes in their personal and professional lives.
Already suffering from a talent dearth, thanks to essential-worker burnout and necessary pauses on critical clinical training, healthcare companies need to act fast, as there are already projections the industry will face a workforce shortage of epic proportions in the years ahead.
How can we, as leaders, help prevent such a serious mental deterioration of our most valuable assets? We must invest in the mental wellbeing of our people. George Bower, executive consultant for the safety solutions company DEKRA, advises that leaders be particularly mindful of their employee mental health, noting that for every dollar invested in mental health treatment, there is a $4 return in the form of improved health and productivity.
Left untreated, depression in employees could result in up to a 35% reduction in productivity, says the American Psychiatric Association. Failure to resolve these symptoms leads to negative outcomes for both the employee and the enterprise.
Collectively, that 35% reduction in productivity translates to a $210 billion dollar economic loss in the U.S alone. A depressed staff member misses, on average, about 31.4 workdays per year. That is a marked increase in absenteeism over healthy laborers.
Loss of productivity aside, absent days may be an indicator of a more frequent need for medical care. More care requirements means more medical costs per employee. Spread across the entire operation, this could force a hike in the company share of costs associated with employer-provided medical coverage.
Choosing not to focus on the mental health of your staff might also signal legal trouble with profound implications for organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. A 2021 Mental Health at Work report noted that 54% of respondents consider mental health to be a DEI issue according to the Harvard Business Review. One year later, in early 2022, Bloomberg Law reported that mental health discrimination was a factor in 30% of ADA-related charges filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission during fiscal year 2021.
The good news is that companies do not need to stand idly by as they watch the corporate landscape change around them. Today’s leaders already have access to the tools that are essential for elevating the mental health of their personnel. It is merely a matter of operationalizing the data at hand and prioritizing mental health from the top down.
First, lead by example. Take steps to demonstrate that mental health is important in the workplace. This can be as simple as an edited email signature stating responses will occur during business hours only, or a visible leadership calendar emphasizing small breaks for mental health recovery during the workweek.
Next, take the time to understand what employees are feeling and thinking about the current company culture. Only one in five employees feel comfortable discussing mental health with their HR department, but nearly two-thirds have reported speaking about mental health with someone else at work.
Destigmatization is on the rise, and as younger generations enter the workforce we can expect that conversations about mental health will become more commonplace. Leaders should ensure that they utilize these conversations – while maintaining confidentiality, of course – as an informative stepping stone towards a more mentally-friendly corporate environment.
Still, an informed C-suite is not enough. Mental health is an extremely personal topic for many individuals. Leaders must strengthen the connection between employers and employees by providing them with the education and resources required to promote health literacy. Employees not only need to know that their leaders support them, they also need to know how to access and use that support.
Team members must be able to help themselves in the event that being helped by another is too daunting. Furthermore, it’s imperative that employees understand that using such resources will not result in action against themselves or their position. The CDC provides many helpful recommendations for increasing the health literacy, and subsequently the mental health, of your talent.
No company, healthcare or otherwise, can afford to ignore mental health in 2023. It’s an employee matter, yes. An important one at that. But the recent pandemic and ever-changing corporate landscape has ensured that it will also be a costly employer matter going forward. That is unless it is addressed in true leadership fashion: immediately and head on.