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Mental Health in the Workplace (Part 2)

Examining the true cost of mental illness in the workplace

CHICAGO — While the topic of mental illness might not be the taboo subject it was in the past, there is still a reluctance to speak about the pressures and stresses that mental health — or the lack of it — can bring, both to personal lives and to the workplace. By tackling this topic head on, however, lives can be changed for the better, and employees can bring their best to both their families and to their jobs.

This was the message of “Workplace Discussions: Mental Health,” a webinar recently presented by the human relations firm PuzzleHR. Company Vice President of Customer Success Rebecca Burbridge and Regional Sales Manager Kimberly Marin hosted.

In Part 1 of this series, we examined how mental health has been impacted in recent years by societal stresses, and how different generations are affected. Today, we’ll explore the cost of mental illness in the workplace,

The Cost of Mental Illness

Company leaders and managers need to be aware of the mental well-being of their teams, Marin says, because problems in this area can come with a very real cost.

“When people are ill, you’re going to have some side effects from that, such as turnover,” she says, “and if you manage people, you know how expensive turnover is. If an employee leaves your organization, the estimates of the cost of that, on the low side, is 30% of that person’s salary — I’ve seen as high as 1.5 times a salary and sometimes even more. So that is a very compelling statistic about why we should pay attention to mental health.”

Even if people keep coming into work when they are having mental difficulties, there is a price to pay. 

“Some of the other pieces that mental health is impacting from a cost perspective are diminished job performance and a lack of productivity,” Marin says. “These show up as anxiety and a lack of sleep, where it’s very hard to remain focused and productive. Employees are going to struggle with their internal relationships or external relationships, with their co-workers or clients.”

Other signs can indicate something is not well with an employee.

“Absenteeism is going to go up, which, by the way, has an extraordinarily high cost,” Marin says. “The other things you might see are hygiene changes, or difficulty solving problems that were never a problem in the past. The last symptom you’re going to see are people just withdrawing from their teams and their collaboration.”

Any employee is in danger of burning out, Burbridge says, and this needs to be addressed as quickly as possible once identified.

“Be able to manage burnout and look for the burnout, because according to the 2021 research report from Mental Health America, employees who are burned out care less for co-workers and can become cynical,” she says. “They have trouble focusing, and they have trouble performing. Burnout also leads to depression. Managers and leaders need to monitor workloads and adjust when needed.”

Emotional Tools for Leadership

When an employer or leader sees some of these telltale signs, Burbridge says there are several ways they can step in and help. Relating to them on a human level is the first.

“One of the most important things I have found in leading teams is a leader needs to have good emotional intelligence,” she says. “We’ve talked about the business case, but when you look at emotional intelligence, we’re talking about your ability to recognize and understand emotions in both yourself and in the people who work with you. This is also your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and your relationships.”

For leaders wanting to explore this, Burbridge recommends Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves: “This book is a great resource for leaders who want to better handle mental health in the workplace. It includes a self-assessment and tools that will help improve your emotional intelligence.”

Burbridge is no stranger to working on this topic: “At PuzzleHR, we feel that building your emotional intelligence is so important that we have implemented this training for all of our leaders, and we’re working to develop ourselves so that we’re able to build and lead better teams. Leaders with strong emotional intelligence and empathy skills attract and retain top talent, and their teams tend to have better, higher job performance.”

Come back Thursday for the conclusion of this series, when we’ll look at ways leaders can help build a healthier workplace for their team. For Part 1 of this series, click HERE.


Mental Health in the Workplace

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Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].