Every good employer cares about the well-being of their employees. It’s hard, however, to justify spending money on benefits packages or offering mental health days just because you care.
Did you know that caring for employee mental health is actually better for your business?
It doesn’t matter if you have 5 employees or 500. Employee mental health impacts productivity and workplace safety. These are two major factors in how much money your business is making.
By caring about the well-being of your employees and striving to create a physically and mentally safe work environment, you can make your business more productive. This is especially true in the construction industry where mental health is considered the silent epidemic affecting construction workers.
Half of all Americans will experience mental health illness in their lives. What could that mean for a business if half of your workforce is silently suffering? You have the power to make a difference.
Depression and anxiety costs the US economy about $1 trillion annually in lost productivity. This can be accounted to hours missed and actual productivity on the job. Mental health illness can lower productivity in a number of ways. Some are obvious and some are not.
Missed days is a big way that mental illness and mental health impacts productivity. One study found that employees with depression miss the equivalent of 27 work days a year though time off, lowered productivity, sick and personal days. The CDC reports that, within a 3-month period, those with depression miss almost 5 days of work. Within the same time period, an equivalent of 11 days are lost to reduced productivity.
Depression can lead to someone being physically at work, but mentally disconnected. This is called presenteeism. It’s not often recognized, since the person shows up and is physically at work. It’s a term worth considering when looking into how mental illness can affect your business. Presenteeism does not include, nor is related to wasted work time, or “goofing around” on the job. It specifically refers to a disconnection, caused by illness, which causes productivity loss due to real health problems.
Other impacts to productivity include social anxiety and depression. Fear of uncomfortable social interactions can stop an employee from reporting any mistakes or problems on site. Lowered communication abilities can impact understanding between an employee and supervisor. The result could be higher rates of miscommunication, incorrectly completed projects, and general confusion on site.
Even if productivity itself is not impacted by these factors, mental illness can increase the risk of workplace accident and injury on site.
In 2010 workplace injuries for construction workers which resulted in 6 or more days off work cost the industry over $50 billion. General 2017 workplace injuries cost U.S. companies $161.5 billion in workers comp, medical bills, missed time, and administration efforts allocated to injuries. There are also the non-monetary impact of injuries, such as chronic injuries and pain caused by the initial accident, higher risks of depression, unemployment, and added personal stressed to both other employees who fill in for the injured coworker, and the injured person themselves and their families.
Mental illness can impact a person’s ability to be fully present in the workplace. Notice that the employee above is not wearing proper safety footwear.
Image borrowed from JLT.
Injuries as a whole are terrible. Construction is an industry more prone to accidents as a whole because of the nature of the jobs; working around equipment, at heights, around electricity, and using tools all increase the chance of an accident happening. The construction industry has long since recognized the dangers associated to it’s industry and has been striving for decades to reduce the number of workplace accidents and injuries which occur on the job. This will never be achieved, however, unless mental health and physiological safety is taken into consideration as much as physical safety is.
There are an unlimited number of possibilities for how mental illness could lead to a workplace accident. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses can lower awareness, cause sleep loss, impact decision making abilities and reaction time.
Imagine how these could affect you in your own job. Lack of sleep alone can make commutes dangerous. Think of all the safety protocols which are followed on site every day, and all the little things that could disrupt those processes.
Construction involves heavy equipment, tools, machines, and working at heights. The impact of mental health could lead to life threatening. Dropping materials and tools can injure an unsuspecting person or coworker below. Zoning out for a second could lead to a personal injury with a hand-held machine, or even by walking in the way of a piece of equipment.
There are hundreds of possible accidents related to mental illness. The goal shouldn’t be to think of them all, but to prevent them all.
The best way to help employees who are suffering from a mental illness is to help them get the resources they need. This can be done through benefits programs, education of supervisors for how to speak about mental health, and creating a workplace culture which takes mental health seriously.
You are, at the end of the day, their employer. It is not your job to be a doctor, and you shouldn’t try to be. In fact, that could end up doing more harm than good.
What you can do is be empathetic. Listen, show that you care, and make sure your business has the resources to make it easy for them to get the help they need. You can do this by:
Providing employee benefits which cover counseling, medication, and other medical resources
Provide mental health days separate from sick days, and encourage employees to take them
Train supervisors and company leaders in mental health first aid so they are equipped to help employees
Encourage conversations about mental health and include mental health awareness in safety training
Make sure all employees know that their jobs will be there for them if they take time to seek treatment for mental illness
Be a support system for your employees. Show them that you care. The goal is to empower them to get the help they need.
There are plenty of online resources available to help any business establish a conversation around mental health. This can be the first step to creating a culture which promotes mental health in the workplace.
The Center for Workplace Mental Health, Mental Health Commission of Canada, Workplace Strategies for Mental Health and Workplace Health Promotion from the CDC are just a few online resources where you can get some more information. Reach out to local mental health centers around your business for more specialized and personal recommendations on how you can start establishing a safe mental health culture in your company.
Your employees are your responsibility. As a leader, you should care about your employees and their wellbeing. An interest in their wellbeing goes beyond caring as a human, however, and actually impacts the success of a business. Caring about employee mental health and creating a work environment which makes employee mental health a priority can result in more productive work days, reduction of workplace accidents and injuries, and can save – and earn – a company more money.