In early 2016, Jessica Leber of Fast Company made an impressively strong case for increased corporate investment--time, energy, and money--in mental health workplace initiatives. Leber's piece, entitled "Fixing Mental Health In The Workplace Requires A Lot More Than A Yoga Room" cited an alarming 2015 study from Harvard and Stanford University business schools which found that health problems stemming directly from job-related stress--ranging from long hours to the burdens of having no insurance and doing shift work--likely contribute to about 120,000 deaths a year and $190 billion a year in health care costs. Leber's piece also noted that depression alone is estimated to cost the U.S. $210 billion a year, half of which are workplace costs including missed days and reduced productivity and by 2020, the World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide.
Given what we know now as both employers and employees, why are we not working together collectively to change how we view mental health in the workplace? Michael Becker recently sat on an expert panel and spoke about the subject on behalf of the Stephanie Becker Fund, a non-profit organization that promotes mental health and physical health parity in the workplace. He said, "Emotional wellness in the workplace is a growing yet underserved need that is addressable. Improving emotional health in the workplace not only makes for good public policy, but genuinely benefits both employees and employers. While investing in emotional health represents an upfront cost for companies, doing so pays meaningful and long-term dividends, in terms of well-being, productivity, and ultimately profits.
In other words, focusing on workplace mental health is no longer simply a moral objective, but in a capitalist society (for better or for worse), it should be a fiscal priority, as well. Another 2016 article, this one by US News, cited a published study stating that every $1 spent by governments on mental health treatment generates an average net benefit of $4, representing an impressive return on investment.
Two companies that stand out as outlets to change the conversation and education around workplace mental health are: Docz and The Carson J. Spencer Foundation's Working Minds program. Docz, who recently co-hosted a workplace mental health symposium with the Stephanie Becker Fund at the Microsoft Store in New York City, is a newly-launched digital health startup that revolutionizes the mental health landscape by making finding support easy and fast for those affected by mental health issues. Docz is a free and anonymous mobile community where one can ask questions or give advice to others. All advice is expert-verified and Docz is already being adapted to fit the needs of small, medium, and large scale businesses. The Carson J. Spencer Foundation's Working Minds program provides businesses with the tools and resources to identify and respond to friends, family members, and co-workers who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings. These two early adopters are doing great work but we need more companies and non-profits to fill the void in making mental health a priority in a place where adults spend a great deal of their waking life.
Will making workplace mental health education commonplace be difficult? Probably. But it's almost always difficult to get anything of importance off the ground--charitable causes, social justice movements, your old 1979 Chevy Nova (okay, scratch that last one).
As a serial entrepreneur, I've had to invest in my own mental wellness, in addition to the mental wellness of employees and even partners. This investment in my mental health has been a big reason why my company has been able to grow over 25% each year for the past five years. I've learned when to pull back with work, how to set boundaries and manage my self-care (both leading to greater productivity), and when and how to check in on employees to make sure they are physically and mentally well. Yes, in the short term, focusing on mental health takes time away from "selling," "growing the business," and "strategic planning." But this single step back ensures that we can take two steps forward in a thoughtful, timely, and healthful manner.
Employers and managers in the workplace: your motto is perhaps, "always be selling"--and, as a business owner, I know this pressure all too well. But we need to amend that motto to include "always be helping" with respect to our employees. Physical help and healthcare have long been the focus because of a physical wound's visible nature. However, psychological wounds and manageable stressors should also be included when we're working to help our employees be their best selves inside and outside of the workplace. If you don't have your (mental) health--you don't have anything.