Workplace wellness programs have proven to be successful in identifying and lowering employee health risk factors, bringing down healthcare costs, and increasing engagement and productivity among employees. That is why over 80% of large U.S. companies offer one! However, not all wellness programs are created equal. There are many intertwining components to overall health and wellness, and one crucial element that many corporate wellness programs overlook is mental health. Mental and emotional health can be more difficult than physical health to address in the workplace, but that does not mean they can be ignored. To do so is like expecting a car to run smoothly with one flat tire. Offering a wellness program that connects all aspects of health, including mental and emotional, ensures that employees receive the tools and resources needed to achieve optimal wellbeing.
One of the most tangible benefits of addressing mental health issues in the workplace is the reduction in costs associated with healthcare and lost productivity. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, the costs for treating people with both mental health disorders and other physical conditions are two to three times higher than for those without co-occurring illnesses. Mental illnesses can also hinder an employee’s ability to perform his or her job effectively. For instance, depression has been shown to interfere with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduce cognitive performance about 35% of the time. The World Health Organization estimates that for every dollar put into treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return on investment of four dollars in improved health and productivity.
Just as with physical illness, identifying mental health problems early on is critical to minimizing damaging effects. Yet, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 85% of employees’ mental health conditions are undiagnosed or untreated. This negatively impacts employees and businesses alike because untreated mental health issues can significantly reduce quality of life, lead to chronic and severe health problems, increase absenteeism and risk for accidents and injuries in the workplace, and lower productivity. Among the many reasons why mental and emotional health conditions can go undiagnosed or untreated, the lingering stigma surrounding mental health is one of the most prevalent.
By offering a full range of wellness services and increasing awareness about mental health issues, companies can help to shatter the stigma, as well as identify risk factors, and connect their employees to helpful information and resources. A report by Capita found that 24% of employees have taken time off because of stress or mental illness. However, only 37% of those same employees said they would feel comfortable telling coworkers or management they took that time off because of mental health issues. In order to dissolve this fear of judgement, businesses need to show their employees that they value their mental health. They can do this by implementing a wellness program that emphasizes the importance of mental health, bringing it out of the shadows and into everyday conversation.
Stress is one of the most common and universal factors that contributes to and exasperates mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. That is why wellness programs with an effective mental health component often focus on stress management. The negative effects of stress are so prevalent and far-reaching that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has declared stress a workplace hazard. With pending deadlines, conflicting personalities, busy schedules, and all the other demands of the workplace, stress is an inevitable part of work and life. So, improving employees’ ability to cope with stressors is critical to their success.
An employee who is of sound mental and emotional health will usually also be better equipped to cope and thrive in taxing situations. By the same token, when an employee is less stressed, they are also more likely to be healthy both mentally and physically. A 2019 survey by Mental Health America found that 50% of respondents engaged in unhealthy behaviors, such as substance abuse or eating an unhealthy diet, to cope with workplace stress. In addition to driving employees to using destructive coping mechanisms that negatively affect physical health, stress can also cause direct physical harm to the body, such as rapid heartbeat, insomnia, muscle pain, upset stomach, and other issues. This brings us to the next reason why focusing on mental health in the workplace is so important: mental, emotional and physical health are inextricably linked.
While wellness programs that only focus on physical health are better than nothing, they do not address all the components that make for healthy employees. Poor mental health can have direct physical consequences that negatively impact employees’ job performance, such as low energy, muscle pain, digestive problems, and frequent colds and infections. Not only can these issues increase absenteeism and lost productivity for businesses, but they can lead to serious and long-term health complications if left untreated. When a person is of sound mental health, there are also second-hand benefits that are likely to occur. Studies have shown that individuals who suffer from a mental illness are less likely to engage in physically healthy behaviors, such as exercising or eating a balanced diet. On the flip side, someone who is of sound mental health is more likely to take care of their physical health. Human health is extremely complex, and it isessential to understand how these components influence one another in order to provide employees with a comprehensive wellness program.
Businesses that invest in their employees’ mental and emotional health are likely to see an increase in productivity and quality of work. Employees are better able to focus on their jobs when they are not struggling with anxiety, stress, depression, or other mental health issues. Companies that take the time and energy to focus on mental health are also showing a deeper understanding of the many facets of their employees’ overall wellbeing. When employees feel valued, cared for and appreciated, this translates to an increase in employee morale and engagement. All these things come together to create a positive work environment and a culture of wellbeing in the workplace, which in turn boost talent acquisition and retention. Put simply, happy and healthy employees are the secret to a successful business.