Measuring for Success: Employee Well-Being and Productivity

On May 2, 2016, National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City (NAMI-NYC Metro) and Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) co-sponsored their Workplace Mental Health Summit VIII with a measurement theme. The Summit focused on how employers can quantify employees' mental health and its relationship to diminished workplace productivity, as well as evaluate interventions to track improvement. Research shows that poor mental health not only severely diminishes employee well-being and quality of life; it also decreases productivity at work.

Attended by business executives and human resource professionals from large companies, as well as nonprofit leaders and NYC Human Resources Administration officials, experts educated the Workplace Summit's fifty attendees about measurement tools and data to understand employee mental health, its impact on them and their functioning at work, in addition to enhancing employee well-being, thereby improving workplace functioning.

One in five Americans lives with mental illness. Among New Yorkers alone, more than 1.6 million experience a mental health condition each year. (ThriveNYC statistic of 20 percent multiplied by 8,491,079, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated New York City's population as of July 2014.) Only one-third of those with mental illness get help, while countless do not because of societal stigma, fear of repercussions at work, and lack of access to quality, affordable treatment. Yet, we know that treatment for the most common conditions is effective 80 percent of the time.

Mental illnesses cost employers and the American economy with direct health care costs and indirect costs, including absenteeism, diminished effectiveness on the job, loss of productivity and disability. The economic impact of depression alone -- occurring in 1 in 10 adults at some point in their lives -- was more than $210 billion in 2010, about half of which represents workplace costs. (From "Working Well: Leading a Mentally Healthy Business" toolkit, March 2016)

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Debra Lerner, MS, PhD, Director, Program on Health, Work and Productivity, Tufts Medical Center and Tufts University Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry, shared research she is conducting to understand the magnitude of mental illnesses' effects on employees and appropriate interventions to alleviate worker challenges. In order to understand the impact of mental health on individuals and how it impacts performance and productivity, Lerner explained that the Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ) is designed to measure the degree to which employees are experiencing limitations at work due to their health problems, and also to calculate health-related productivity loss. The WLQ assesses limitations affecting four key work activities: time management and performance of mental-interpersonal tasks, physical tasks and output-related tasks. Stressing the need for privacy protections when collecting data to measure employee mental health and work limitations, Dr. Lerner demonstrated the benefits of having data to track the effectiveness of interventions designed to help employees improve their mental health and ability to function at work, improve productivity and reduce the costs of mental health problems in the workplace.

David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, Assistant Executive Director for Organizational Excellence, American Psychological Association (APA), presented data from the APA's 2015 Work and Well-Being survey indicating that 11 percent of working Americans were experiencing severe or moderate elevations in symptoms related to depression and anxiety. Less than one-half (45%) of working adults, however, report that their employer provides the resources necessary for employees to meet their mental health needs. Ballard not only described how mental illness affects work, but also how workplace culture influences employee well-being and how workplace stress can contribute to poor mental health.

To address some of the gaps between workplace need and resources, the "Working Well: Leading a Mentally Healthy Business" toolkit was distributed at the Summit. Additionally, as a component of their overall workplace mental health strategy, many companies use NAMI-NYC Metro's #IWILLLISTEN campaign, designed to create awareness of the prevalence of mental illness and reduce the associated stigma. If you are interested in using the #IWILLLISTEN campaign in your workplace, contact NAMI-NYC Metro.

It's time for us all to eliminate the stigma around mental health problems and improve access to quality, affordable care, which in turn would enhance workers' well-being and increase workplace productivity.

Wendy Brennan, Executive Director, NAMI-NYC Metro
Laurel Pickering, President and CEO, NEBGH