It is estimated that one out of every five American adults experience some form of mental illness in a given year. So, this means that at any given point, it is likely that close to 20% of the workforce experiences some form of mental illness. With such a large number of people who have a mental illness in the workforce, it is important for businesses to have the resources and accommodations to efficiently respond to the needs of their employees.
Contrary to popular beliefs, people who have mental illnesses often get better with improved treatments and services. Additionally, many people who have mental illnesses can and do work effectively and with the proper workplace accommodations.
Impacts of Mental Health on Businesses
It is approximated that mental illness annually costs employers upwards to $100 billion in indirect costs. Specifically, employees with depression cost employers close to $44 billion per year in lost productive time. In fact, one study showed that depression and stress were more strongly linked to higher medical expenditures than smoking and a lack of exercise. More days of work loss and work impairment are due to mental illnesses than to other chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and arthritis.
Highlights from the Workplace Stress and Anxiety Disorders Survey show that on the job, employees self-reported that stress and anxiety most often impacted their:
- workplace performance by 56 percent
- relationship with coworkers and peers by 51 percent
- quality of work by 50 percent
- relationships with superiors by 43 percent
More alarming is that employees often feared repercussions as:
- 34 percent of employees had fears that their boss would interpret it as a lack of interest or unwillingness to do the activity
- 31 percent of employees had fears of being labelled as ‘weak’
- 22 percent of employees had fears that it would affect promotion opportunities
- 22 percent of employees had fears that their discussions about mental health would go in their file
- 20 percent of employees had fears of being laughed at or not being taken seriously
Furthermore, mental health diagnoses are the fastest growing sector of short-term disability claims. These claims account for up to 30 percent or more of the disability burden for employers and are growing by 10 percent annually. Difficulties in securing health care benefits can result in employees having more difficulties in returning to work. Because anxiety and depression are just as important as one’s physical health, they are covered by Social Security Disability which can help keep employees on board.
Additionally, employers should be cognizant of stresses which might impact the mental health of their employees. It was identified that 53 percent of employees reported that their work responsibilities triggered symptoms of their disorder–specifically meeting deadlines and dealing with problems. 46 percent of employees stated that interpersonal relationships triggered symptoms, 37 percent of employees stated that changes in their work situation–such as leaving a job, starting a new job, and getting fired– triggered symptoms and 35 percent of employees stated that staff management triggered symptoms of their mental health disorder.
From a legal standpoint, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with mental health disorders from workplace discrimination. Qualified employees who have a prior record of mental health disorders and disabilities are also prohibited from workplace discrimination and termination under this act. This law applies to private employers with more than 15 employees and state and local government employers.
On a positive note, there is research that suggests that disability costs related to mental health can be substantially reduced when access to early intervention and treatment is available. Employers play a substantial role when it comes to the mental health of their employees so, through educational programs and events aimed towards mental health awareness, promotion of a work-life balance and time off, employers can help educate their employees and urge them to balance their lives to ensure that their job productivity remains high.
What Businesses Can Do
As stated above, employers can ensure that they practice efficient employee management by providing accommodations to employees to help them manage their mental health and keep up their morale. Here are some tips for employers to practice:
- Educate yourself about mental illnesses and make yourself approachable so that employees feel comfortable about disclosing information
- Set the tone for mental health inclusivity by sharing information, awareness events, and other opportunities which highlight mental health
- Implement an effective Employee Assistance Program, Disability Employee Resource Group, or other form of support to help workers who have mental health illnesses
- Inform the workplace about mental health to reduce potential harassment and bullying
- Build trust with employees and make the work climate enjoyable to keep up morale and employee satisfaction
- Promote a work-life balance to reduce overworking employees