Striking a balance between protecting mental health and prioritizing productivity

Author: Jennifer Gendron- Global Chief Commercial Officer at Koa Health –  Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing Solutions

As businesses become more aware of the explicit and implicit demands of their workforce–employee mental health has become a company priority. The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 12 billion working days[1] are lost annually due to depression and anxiety, costing companies $1 trillion worldwide. This cannot wait. If they haven’t already, employers must get on board with protecting and supporting mental health as a company objective.

As more and more light is shed on how much loss occurs for companies when employee wellbeing suffers, companies globally are pushing mental health to the top of a growing list of priorities. Research indicates a clear correlation between employers supporting their team’s mental health and the economic wellbeing of the company[2]. So the question isn’t should employee mental health be prioritized. It’s how can we make it happen? In the 21st century, businesses have no choice but to accept the truth: productivity isn’t possible without employee wellbeing.

The role of mental health in poor work attendance

By and large, for a team to accomplish objectives–daily to yearly, a line manager’s main concern is that members show up to do their part and do an excellent job of it. And this makes sense. When all members of the workforce are present, there’s at least the possibility that everyone can carry out their tasks. Work attendance is vital for many reasons. And all those reasons tie into maintaining workflows and ensuring business success.

When staff members are absent, the workload must be redistributed. Tasks at hand must be shifted to another employee, or left incomplete until their return. Objectives are often interdependent—requiring the collaboration of various employees to be completed, and therefore absenteeism directly impacts everything from project timelines to long-term business success[3]. With mental ill health and stress ranking first and third on the list of reasons for work absences[4], it’s clear where companies should focus their attention and resources. If their goal is to improve employee attendance and, therefore, productivity, mental wellbeing must be attended to.

Presenteeism and its potential to harm

Looking deeper into employee performance, sometimes a decline in work achievement occurs even while the entire team is present. When workers fill their chairs without fulfilling their responsibilities (whether or not this is their intention), it’s known as presenteeism. A sort of next-level absenteeism, presenteeism has even more harmful effects[5]. But why would an employee come to work in the first place if they aren’t feeling up to it?

The “show up no matter what” culture of the past continues to influence today’s employees and the organizations they work for. Fortunately, perspectives are shifting. Industry research points to it being more cost-effective for people to take sick leave than to work when they’re mentally or physically too unwell to do their jobs. And this is positively impacting how businesses, employees, and society as a whole view taking time off to recover. Nevertheless, time off is only one aspect of supporting mental health at work.

Leveraging company culture to support productivity

There’s no debating it. Employees dealing with poor mental health and wellbeing are less productive. To protect performance, employers must prioritize wellbeing, starting with culture. Encouraging people to be authentic and make the extra effort to be kind to their colleagues is essential, as is leading by example and offering accessible and inclusive evidence-based resources across the full range of mental health.

Beyond improving productivity, employers have a unique opportunity to be a source of support and enable employees to live their best lives (professionally and personally). By supporting mental health at work, they’re safeguarding the sustainable workforce they need to achieve business goals.

The bottom line? Healthier and happier employees are less likely to be absent or underperform. And that’s good news for everyone.

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For more on why mental health is key to the employee experience and business success, download our free report: Mental Health and the Employee Experience: The Business Case.