Should Businesses Support the Behavioral Health of Employees?
YES! Businesses have every reason to help their employees detect, treat, manage, and prevent mental health and substance use issues. And not just because it’s the right thing to do – it’s in their financial interest.
Behavioral health – both good and bad – impacts every workplace. The idea that a worker checks their personal life at the door on the way into the office is fanciful. And now in the pandemic era, that false boundary is blurred still further as our homes have become our workplaces and we regularly bring our colleagues into them through video conferences and virtual meetings.
If I’m struggling with depression or substance use or any other mental health issue, that struggle will affect my job performance. If I work for an employer who invests in my health by providing resources and establishing a culture of understanding and support, managing that issue may be easier, allowing me to be more focused and productive. On the other hand, if my employer ignores behavioral health, I have the added burden of concealing my struggles, leaving me distracted, unfocused, and less productive. In either case, my behavioral health impacts the bottom line.
How does behavioral health affect a business’ bottom line?
- Absenteeism: When workers stay home – whether the absence is planned or unplanned – productivity at work decreases. Spreading awareness of behavioral health issues and removing barriers to identification and treatment can help employees discover and manage mental health and substance use disorders earlier and more effectively (just as with physical illnesses, mental health or substance use issues are more easily treated when they are identified early). This support translates to less use of sick time and disability insurance.
- Presenteeism: If an employee or a member of their family is struggling with their behavioral health, the employee’s focus is not going to be on work. Just as with absenteeism, presenteeism causes office productivity to decline. Many behavioral health conditions are not easy to spot in others, especially in situations where employees do not feel safe sharing information about their mental health or substance use, leading them to try to ignore or conceal their illness. This sort of unsafe office culture can lead to individuals showing up for work in all of the physical ways while remaining checked-out mentally.
- Turnover: A lack of resources to support employees’ behavioral health can lead to losing skilled talent to either other firms with better options or unemployment if their health deteriorates too far. In turn, a new job search will have to be conducted, a new hire must be trained, and any benefits from team cohesion will have to be rebuilt.
- Higher Healthcare Expenses: Often, ignored or unaddressed behavioral health problems can lead to or exacerbate physical health issues. Mental and substance use illnesses grow more difficult and more expensive to treat as they progress. And if they bring an employee to a crisis point, costs can be exponentially higher and the employee may require an extended time for recovery. Simply put, ignoring behavioral healthcare needs leads to more expensive traditional healthcare costs in the form of higher premiums.
A key takeaway is that the cost of doing nothing for workplace behavioral health is not $0.
The behavioral health of an organization’s employees – from the CEO down to the newest entry-level hire – impacts the bottom line. The good news is that the influence runs both ways. Where a company that makes no investment in supporting their employees’ mental health and substance use issues faces the “rising cost of doing nothing,” those that do can increase their own profitability.
Checking your baggage at the door no longer feels realistic for employers.
Would you choose a workplace that promotes resiliency and psychological safety, creating an environment where you could confidently go to your manager with an issue relating to depression or anxiety and expect understanding? Or would you prefer a workplace that pretended behavioral health did not exist when you’re on the clock, so any concerns touching on mental health and substance use must be relegated to the back of your mind while you studiously ignore them as you stare blankly at a spreadsheet?
Luckily this is no longer a choice employers need to make, because the return on investing in employees’ behavioral health is positive. Studies show workplace behavioral health programs not only support employees, but also lead to a positive impact on everything from healthcare costs to company culture. Within three years of investing in mental health and substance use programs, businesses can not only offset any current expenses with costs savings and heightened productivity, they can recoup the full value of taking better care of their workforce.
It’s a no brainer: businesses should support the behavioral health of their employees.
There is a “rising cost of doing nothing” – lack of behavioral health programs can increase absenteeism, presenteeism, sick time use, healthcare expenses, disability claims, and turnover. Moreover, investing in behavioral health supports shows a positive return on investment – doing so decreases absenteeism, presenteeism, use of sick days, traditional healthcare expenses, number/duration of disability claims, and turnover. Why wouldn’t you do it?
The real problem when it comes to addressing mental health and substance use is inaction. Suicide is preventable; mental health challenges are treatable.
If you or a loved one needs immediate support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the word “ACT” to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.