Why is Mental Health Important in the Workplace?

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” 

In today’s society, this saying holds more truth than ever. Many people are working themselves past their own limits, in order to meet deadlines and get things done. As a result, their stress levels build up, which increases their risk of developing mental health issues and physical illnesses.

Besides monitoring your own well-being, you’ll also want to take a look at your environment. Studies show that stressors at work can increase the risk of diseases like hypertension and diabetes. Additionally, physical and mental health problems lead to increased healthcare costs and decreased productivity.

The World Health Organization (2019) estimates that the economic cost of mental health issues in the US workforce amounts to approximately $1 trillion every year.Other places around the world report similar difficulties – statistics in the UK show approximately 30-40% of employee work leaves and absences are related to poor mental health. In the Netherlands, 58% of disabilities related to work are also attributed to mental illnesses. 

If pushed too far, employees will eventually burnout from work-related stress, and may even quit their jobs. Unless something is done soon, health care costs and productivity loss from work-related stressors will negatively impact the economy in the long run.

In this article, we will deep-dive into:

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Factors that Can Lead to Mental Health Issues

High workloads

It’s no surprise that 4 out of 10 people say that high workloads play the biggest role in impacting their mental health. The more responsibilities an employee has, the higher their stress levels are. But when these responsibilities are not clearly defined, it can lead to disaster.

An employee that has too many responsibilities will feel pressured to get it done as soon as possible. Many employees work overtime, or find themselves bringing their work home to ensure their performance doesn’t decline. The problem is, giving up the weekend to work from home affects others as well. By prioritizing work over your friends and family, it can negatively impact the relationship you have with them.

While working from home is encouraged because of COVID-19, make sure you’re aware of how much time you actually spend working. One solution is to implement working or office hours to ensure you aren’t on the road to burnout.

Besides sabotaging personal relationships, high workloads also take time off from other activities. Many employees sacrifice sleep in order to gain more time for working. Over the long run, sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue and impact productivity . As well, going to the gym, hanging out with friends, or cooking healthy meals are all examples of things you can do to relieve stress. Taking time away from these activities will only do more harm than good.


Insensitive Management/ Stigma on Mental Health

The majority of managers and employers recognize the importance of mental health issues in the workplace. Yet only 1 in 4 employers are willing to provide training or apply policies to increase mental health awareness.

Some employees might feel like they cannot speak up if their managers or employers are dismissive about mental health. As a result, these types of workers tend to keep their problems to themselves. Without anyone to talk to, many workers become prone to burnout and find their workplace irritable.

Company leaders should set the standards. They are the role models that their workers look up to. Employers that are insensitive about mental health issues set a bad example, as other employees might follow suit. Unless it is a topic that can be openly discussed, mental health issues may eventually create a negative workplace culture.


Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and PTSD. Unfortunately, it is more common in the workplace than you might believe.  Here are some ways it can manifest in a workplace environment:

  • Verbal abuse, such as yelling or swearing
  • Coworkers gossiping or spreading false rumours
  • Assigning demeaning or pointless tasks to an employee
  • Physical abuse, such as pushing or tripping

Aside from the risk of developing mental health disorders, it can also affect day-to-day productivity. Employees that feel anxious and stressed will be constantly distracted from their tasks. This may lead to low confidence in the work that they produce.

As an employer, you want to be mindful of workplace bullying. Often, workers that are the victims of workplace bullying quit because they cannot stand a toxic environment.As well, it may earn your company a bad reputation – affecting future job applicants and consumers. To solve this, set a no-tolerance policy for any form of workplace bullying, to show your employees that you mean business.

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How Mental Health Issues Affect the Workplace

People with anxiety and depression suffer from both psychological and physical symptoms. They find it difficult to concentrate, lack motivation, and tend to be indecisive. Physically, they often feel nauseous and dizzy. Depression may also manifest as insomnia and poor sleep quality, which exacerbates other symptoms. 

We mentioned that stress can increase the risk of developing physical illnesses; which in turn, can lead to physical disability and impaired daily functioning. According to the CDC (2019), depression disrupts an employee’s ability to complete physical tasks 20% of the time. This percentage increases to 35% for tasks that require cognitive ability.

An employee that comes in for work does not always guarantee workplace productivity. The concept of presenteeism has also been explored as a measurement of how mental health issues affect the workplace. In presenteeism, the employee is physically present, but because of a physical or mental illness, they cannot give their best performance (Burton et. al., 2008). 

Employees who have a high chance of developing depression often end up having the highest health care expenses after 3 years (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 2019). Hence, before these health problems can manifest in the workplace, it is better to create an ideal working environment to lessen the risk.


What Should Employers Do

As an employer, it’s not economically sustainable to have employees with high healthcare costs. Your approach to mental health issues and other physical illnesses should focus on prevention and cure.

Providing Direct Primary Care

Direct Primary Care – or DPC, is a type of healthcare practice where consumers directly pay a primary care provider or clinic for primary care services. DPC programs are affordable.  Well Life ABQ is $75 per month for the employee and $30 per month for additional family members.  Self-funded/level-funded companies can also save thousands by shifting costs away from inflated insurance claims to their true cost by paying directly.  


Primary care is delivered by a primary care provider, who provides preventive and curative management for common health conditions. The goal of primary care providers is to prevent illnesses by recognizing risk factors and by providing continuity of care for chronic diseases (Penn Medicine, 2014). Some DPC services can even be personalized to cater to the needs of the patient, such as allocating more time for an appointment.

A substantial amount of patients with mental disorders are seen in the primary care setting. They often visit to consult for depression, substance abuse and anxiety. Hence, the WHO recommends provision of primary care treatment for mental health issues in the workplace.

As the costs of third-party insurance rises, DPC can be a cost-effective option to reduce mental health issues in the workplace. DPC provides access to a real, local clinic and telemedicine 24/7. 

As this type of healthcare is readily accessible, any concern can be addressed with urgency and speed. Studies of DPC have shown a 30-40% decrease in ER visits when a company offers DPC (Society of Actuaries, 2020).

Enforcement of Health & Safety Policies

Mental health awareness starts from the employer. If you see a need to set policies and guidelines, you’re already on the way there. Remember that your position as an employer gives you the power to implement change. If you want to cultivate a positive work environment, you are the person that needs to make it happen.The World Health Organization developed the Mental Health Policy and Service Guidance Package for workplace environments. This guideline outlines the steps employers can take to develop a mental health policy specific for their workplace.


Before you create a policy, the first thing you should do is to “make a case”. This includes presenting data and research that shows how much the company can gain from investing in the health of the employees.For example, in a study by Chisholm et al.,, they projected that the overall economic gain from implementing health policies could reach up to $310 billion within the next decade. Companies can stand to gain 5.7 times more than the cost of the treatment when the economic benefits and the health returns are also taken into account. In addition, the World Health Organization (2019) estimates that for every US $1 alloted for the management of mental health disorders in the workplace, there is an estimated gain of US $4 in increased productivity and health. Once data and research has been finalized, the next step is to create a wellness committee that will be responsible for creating the objectives and vision of the policy. This committee is responsible for gathering data on the current mental health status in the workplace.Use existing data like absenteeism and resignation records, alongside occupational health data to help in this process. For additional information, the wellness committee can also conduct surveys or risk assessments on your employees.When developing a policy, consult with your key stakeholders to create specific, measurable and attainable objectives. The clearer you are on the outcome, the more effectively you can make it happen.


Once you’re ready to move on, the next step is to create strategies that can help you attain those objectives. Examples would be infographics about mental health issues in the workplace to visually demonstrate statistics. Other examples include posters about myths associated with mental health disorders, or emotional well-being workshops that are free for anyone to attend. The Mental Health Policy and Service Guidance Package developed by WHO emphasizes that policies should be specific for the workplace as strategies may differ. For example, in a female-dominated workplace, you can create a support group for working mothers. In some workplaces where workers are often isolated, you can also create social support networks for them as well.After an appropriate period of time, evaluate the outcome of your strategies and policies.

  • Were you able to meet all the objectives?
  • Were there problems encountered along the way?
  •  How can your company sustain these policies in the long-run?
  • Depending on what occasions arise, your company should be able to make adjustments or changes in the policy to meet new demands.


Establishing Better Communication

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand someone else’s feelings and experiences. It is the capacity to imagine oneself in another person’s place, and is considered an essential component of leadership in the 21st century.

Empathy encourages teamwork and collaboration, and establishes better communication amongst others. It allows employers to create an environment where everyone feels free to express how they feel. Instead of fearing reprimand or punishments, they are rewarded for their initiatives and encouraged to speak up.

Without clear communication, employees may not understand the importance or extent of their jobs. Clear communication allows everyone to set realistic expectations, and is both a preventive and curative measure to workplace health.

By implementing something as simple as morning briefings, employees can start their days knowing what their priorities are. In turn, the manager or employer can have an overview of the tasks accomplished each day.

Good communication is not a one-way process where the employer is the only one listening. It is also important for an employer to make their workers feel valued. To do this, provide positive feedback and recognize employees who perform well. This provides them with encouragement to continue doing their best.

According to the Mental Health Policy and Service Guidance Package of WHO, communication is vital in the implementation of policies. Many workplace policies actually fail because they are not properly communicated to workers or stakeholders. Some good ways to communicate policies are by launching an event, distributing posters, holding group meetings or publishing a website.


What Should Employees Do

As an employee, it is partly your responsibility to recognize your own symptoms and do something about it. According to the CDC (2019), “Only 57% of employees who report moderate depression and 40% of those who report severe depression, receive treatment to control depression symptoms”.

If your workplace provides health seminars and psychiatric screenings, you’ll want to take advantage of those opportunities to manage your health and well-being. You can also approach your employer or manager and suggest projects related to stress management. They may recognize the need for such interventions when the topic is brought up.As an employee, you should also be aware of how your coworkers are handling their jobs. If you notice a coworker taking more frequent than usual sick leaves, reach out to them and ask how they are. Offering your support and empathy goes a long way in helping them. You may also encourage them to seek consultation for their mental health issues if the topic comes up.If you’ve been through depression or anxiety, one way to help others is to share about your experiences and how you managed to overcome the symptoms. This will help reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorders, and make others more comfortable talking about their issues.Most of all, learn to prioritize yourself. Set aside time to exercise, eat healthy meals, sleep adequately and relax. Unless you make time for what’s important, you’ll never get around to doing it.

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