Workplace Realities We Can No Longer Ignore: Mental Health

On March 31, workplace mental health platform Unmind and the Wellness Council of America released a new report looking at the state of employee wellbeing and resilience in the wake of the global pandemic. The study found a disconnect between employer intentions to support employee mental health and their ability to act effectively.

The survey included responses from 228 employers and 1,000 employees from a number of industries in the United States. According to the report, 93 percent of employers acknowledge that support for employee wellbeing is critical in attracting and retaining talent in the future and 90 percent of employers are concerned about employee burnout. 

Despite these attitudes, however, only 27 percent of senior leadership is on board. A mere 37 percent of employers feel they have a strong understanding of the mental health and wellbeing of their people and only 31 percent of employees feel like their employer has taken steps to support their mental health. Instead, 64 percent of employees said their working hours increased since the pandemic started. 

Mental health has long been a taboo subject in the workplace. Even before the pandemic, many employees reported feeling burnt out, which can lead to high employee turnover. This can have a detrimental impact on a company’s bottom line. Investing in employee mental health is good for business and employers have options to support their staff.  

The cost of mental health

The Mental Health Index published by Total Brain and the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalition found a correlation between declining mental health and declining cognitive competency. Over a one month period last year, the index showed a 48 percent increase in the risk of depression and a 62 percent decrease in employee focus.

Mental health issues can also lead to problems with employee engagement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 80 percent of people with depression reported some level of functional impairment because of their depression and 27 percent reported serious difficulties in work and home life. Additionally, the CDC states that on average, in a 3-month period, patients with depression suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity.

Conversely, investing in employee mental health has proven benefits. In 2019, Deloitte released a report looking at the return on investment for Canadian firms that invested in mental health programming. According to the report, the median yearly ROI on mental health programs was CA$1.62 among the seven companies that provided at least three years’ worth of data. Companies whose programs had been in place for three or more years had a median yearly ROI of CA$2.18.

Investing in health

In order to better serve their employees, companies should be intentional about delivering an employee experience and culture that prioritizes mental health. The Deloitte report indicates that employers should invest in leadership training and preventive interventions, such as employee and family assistance programs, psychological care benefits, and return-to-work programs to aid employee mental health. Employers shouldn’t wait until their employees are experiencing a mental health crisis to intervene. Instead, Deloitte recommends investing in proactive programs that promote positive health and well-being, which can include amenities like on-site fitness classes or a gym, meditation rooms, and greenspace. 

In order to craft an effective mental health program, employers can start by conducting an honest assessment of how they treat their employees. It can be difficult to help employees if a toxic work environment is the source of their poor mental health. In order to determine which workplace practices could be harming employee mental health, employers can conduct anonymous surveys that give their staff the freedom to be honest without fear of reprisal. This can help employers determine whether they are adequately supporting staff and helping them maintain a healthy work life balance. Once the survey results are analyzed, employers need to be prepared to take action. Ignoring the results or delaying implementing a plan could result in further damage to the staff and attrition.

Mental health is the next frontier of diversity and inclusion. Moving forward, employers who take time to craft an intentional workplace that prioritizes mental health will be more appealing to employees. According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, half of millennial employees and 75 percent of Generation Z employees have left jobs for mental health reasons.  Employees want a workplace culture that reduces the stigma around mental health, offers programs that promote mental health, and empowers employees to take better care of themselves. Employers who do this will be better able to attract and retain talent.


Our team can help you implement best practices around workplace culture and employee experience. Contact us for more information on how to build a workplace that prioritizes employee mental health.