The Cost of Poor Mental Health in the Workplace

by: | July 27, 2017

If you have a cut, you grab a band-aid. Bump or bruise? Ice it. Most people know to practice first aid in the event of a physical injury.

So why don’t we use first aid for our mental health?

Have you ever lost a loved one? Maybe you can relate to the fact that grief can cause psychological pain not readily apparent to the outside observer. Some scars are quietly carried on the inside. Left untreated, these emotional injuries can get worse and significantly impact our quality of life.

These common psychological pains include:

  • Failure and rejection
  • Bouts of low self-esteem
  • Anxiety and unhealthy worrying
  • Grief and loss
  • Loneliness and lack of social connection

That’s why we all need tools to keep our minds and hearts in tip-top shape—so we can perform at our best. In a viral TED Talk with over six hundred thousand views (at the time of writing), psychologist Guy Winch argues that many people don’t adequately look after their mental health. He calls for practicing “emotional first aid,” that is, taking care of mental wellbeing with the same diligence we take care of our bodies.

Emotional first aid is a groundbreaking concept, particularly when it comes to improving wellbeing at work. It’s a crucial way to close the gap between physical and psychological health.

Yet, one of the biggest challenges facing companies today is how to best support team members struggling with mental health concerns. Most employees know that they should see a doctor immediately if they have a cut or scrape. Many may be less clear about how to get help for emotional pain, which often remains out of sight, undiagnosed, or — at worst —ignored.

The Cost of Poor Mental Health in The Workplace

Tending to employees’ wellbeing is more important than ever. Nearly 20 percent of all North Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness in any given year, primarily affecting them during their work years. And, the growing problem of workplace mental health has far reaching implications.

Mental and behavioral disorders are the leading cause of disability in both Canada and the U.S. today. Depression, alone, cost the U.S. economy more than $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity as well as $26 billion in direct treatment costs.

The good news is that prioritizing workplace mental health can save companies $80 to $100 million annually. And it pays in more ways than one to foster a culture of wellness—employees who participate in wellness programs are more productive and engaged.

Why Your Company Needs “Emotional First Aid”

You can be part of the solution to help your employees live happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives. Leaders play an important role in helping employees tend to their mental health. Encouraging emotional first aid can give you an edge in multiple ways.

It makes your employees more adaptable.

Learning emotional coping techniques — whether through on-site classes or with a qualified professional — fosters resilience. Skills such as mindfulness and self-compassion help employees manage stress.

When you have a resilient workforce, you have an agile organization that’s highly responsive to change. This directly translates into business success.

You’ll be an industry leader.

Even though employers can’t afford to ignore workplace mental health, some companies continue doing too little to fully address it—a missed opportunity. Too many employers make the mistake of focusing only on the physical aspects of health.

Creating a culture of acceptance around emotional wellbeing is an under utilized recruitment and retention strategy. Employees feel a sense of trust and loyalty in an environment where they can openly discuss mental health.

Your employees will be happier and healthier.

Research shows that happy employees are 31 percent more productive. They are more sociable, creative and energetic, which supports team collaboration and better communication.

What’s more, just one session with a mental health provider can decrease absenteeism and improved performance. Helping employees get on a path to emotional awareness can make a huge difference at all levels of an organization.

Emotional First Aid Practices for Innovative Organizations

Practicing emotional first aid in your company goes further than simply hanging up posters that encourage people to seek help. You must fundamentally transform the culture to put people at the center.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Normalize conversations around mental health.

Talking about mental health still carries a stigma, as Guy Winch points out in his TED talk. We’re often more comfortable sharing details about diabetes or a heart condition than we are our personal struggles. As a result, people wait too long to seek treatment or they suffer in silence. Money is wasted when services go under utilized. Business suffers.

Help end the stigma by presenting a message that it’s okay for people to get help. Make a clear commitment to mental health at every level, starting with business leaders and HR partners. Empower managers with the tools they need to have meaningful conversations around wellbeing with their staff.

2. Provide employees with access to qualified mental health professionals.

The future of health includes preventative screenings and treatments, so focus on wellness initiatives and benefits that encourage early intervention.

Employees need access to expertly trained health professionals who can guide them. A strong treatment team should not only include doctors, but also counselors, massage therapists, dieticians and more.

In addition to on-site treatments, consider providing employees with digital tools to access services outside the office in a way that fits their lifestyle. This puts them in charge of their health.

3. Take a comprehensive view of employee wellbeing.

At the heart of it, emotional first aid is about acknowledging that employee wellbeing is about holistic quality of life, not just physical health. Integrating mental health into all your wellness activities is key.

For instance, exercise can be effective in coping with depression, so consider providing yoga sessions as a way to boost mindfulness along with morale. Stock shared spaces with healthy snacks and ample seating to encourage social connection, which helps to reduce loneliness.

Healthy people are more likely to be happy people. Ultimately, the benefits of investing in employees’ psychological wellbeing go further than just improving your bottom line. Practicing emotional first aid can transform your workplace in to a culture of health, making a positive difference in people’s lives.

That’s priceless.

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