The most requested benefit for new hires under age 35 is a mental health benefit[i]. A study done by ‘vitality’ out of Britain reports, ‘Our findings … show that employees under the age of 35 lose 48% more productive time due to absence and presenteeism than their older colleagues.’ The report goes on to say, “Gen Z and young millennial employees in Britain are missing the equivalent of a day’s work every week due to mental health struggles…The root cause…: Younger, less affluent workers are grappling with mental health challenges without adequate employer support.”
The ramifications are disastrous.
“Productivity has been dropping steadily since 2014, with businesses losing over a month each year per employee. Usually this is because your employees are at work but not actually being productive:
- In 2023, employees lost 20% of working hours
- This represents a loss of 49.7 productive days per employee, per year
- This is worse with lower income and younger workers”[ii]
So, do we have a mental health problem or a productivity problem? What CFOs and COOs need to understand is that the two are knotted together and will not be separated. Thus, this is not an HR or Benefits division problem, it is an operational and financial problem.
Companies know that a mental health solution is where all the buzz is right now. Health insurance brokers say that 91% of new spending for employees will be on mental health.
That’s all fine, but companies still need to get product out the door. They still need their employees to ‘do the work’.
Across the spectrum you will hear arguments from both sides regarding this current crisis. On one hand the arguments fall into the camp of ‘Because of social media, the young workers have no idea on how to come into an office and communicate on a basic level with their co-workers.’ (And even comments like, ‘…they’re just whiners!”) And in the other camp the concerns are more global. ‘Because young people see so much of the bad elements of the world every second, and because it is so available now, they are overly stimulated with negative events and have lost a sense of hope for the future, and they need help.’ Of course, with all arguments, there is certainly an element of truth to both sides.
Just to be clear, we don’t take sides, and there is no magic bullet to answer these monumental challenges for today. But there is hope. Mental Health programs do help and, when implemented and utilized, they both increase productivity and help the employees and their families.
According to data supplied by the American Psychiatric Association, ‘…employees with unresolved depression experience a 35% reduction in productivity, contributing to a loss to the US economy of $210.5 billion a year in absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical costs.’[iii]
On the flip side, ‘80% of employees improved levels of work effectiveness and satisfaction when treated for mental illness with proper care, including therapy and skill building.’[iv]
The National Safety Council has been well aware of this corporate issue and created a ‘Mental Health Cost Calculator’ site for employers. (Link) According to their site, “The National Safety Council has collaborated with an independent research institution, NORC at the University of Chicago, to create a tool demonstrating the cost of employee mental health and illness for employers. This cost calculator is an authoritative, easy-to-use tool providing business leaders with specific information about the cost of mental health (including depression, anxiety, and general mental distress) in their workplace based on the size of employee base, industry, and state.”[v]
So, what does this calculator calculate?
It calculates a company’s cost of NOT having a good mental health program in place. For example, a manufacturing company in Ohio with 400 employees will, according to the calculator, lose $577,410 over the year in:
- Lost Time ($170,511)
- Job Turnover & Re-Training ($204,435)
- Health Care costs ($202,464)
Obviously, this is significant.
In reality, it doesn’t really matter if the young workers are ‘whiners’ or are truly and justifiably concerned with our future. They need help and when they get the right kind of help, then they are both happier, less stressed, and more productive. There is no negative or downside to that statement.
There is concern in the workplace today that young workers have been ‘sold a bill of goods’ into thinking that all stress is bad. We don’t agree with that concept and there is much data to support us.
Optimal performance, for both the individual and the organization, occurs when there is some stress. To attempt to eliminate all stress is both unproductive and it actually prevents an individual from realizing their potential.
Good stress creates the best in all of us. Again, multiple studies support this.
According to The Harvard Business Review, “Stress can cause the human brain to use more of its capabilities, improve memory and intelligence, increase productivity, and even speed recovery from things like knee surgery. Research indicates that stress, even at high levels, creates greater mental toughness, deeper relationships, heightened awareness, new perspectives, a sense of mastery, a greater appreciation for life, a heightened sense of meaning, and strengthened priorities. The findings of our study were significant: when an individual thought about stress as enhancing, instead of debilitating, they embraced the reality of their current stress level and used it to their advantage.”[vi]
As a father of six children, when an oncoming storm was coming by, my wife and I approached the children and would say, ‘This is exciting! We’re getting a big storm! Let’s make sure everything is tied down and safe and then let’s watch it!’ And our children, all adult now, are not afraid of storms. It is how you approach an oncoming issue that helps deliver a postivie mental outcome. And the same is with work.
As one who has gone through some very painful experiences, character building and strength only come from painful and stressful situations.
As a father, I would teach my children my four lessons of life: 1 – Be kind, 2 – Be grateful, 3 – Be curious, and 4 – Be personally responsible. This last point is critical in the workplace and it will be addressed further below in the section on ‘Solution’. But notice, in those four things, there is nothing in there about ‘avoiding pain.’ Avoidance of all pain and stress is what too many in the media are touting for us all. That is just not reality.
If one lives in this world, then one will experience pain and suffering. If you ask ten people the meaning of life, you will get ten different answers, but one of those answers most assuredly will be that the meaning of life is how you respond to bad situations. It is from those bad and painful things that hit us from crazy, out of the unexpected places that will define us as people. To avoid them is psychological death. To embrace them, as painful as they are, is psychological growth. Companies need to know this and embrace this principal and inbred it into their culture so as to fully help their employees as well as to realize a highly productive company. This is a key element of the principal of ‘Total Workplace Health’ that my partner, Shanna Dunbar of Workplace Health, Inc. incorporates into her clients.
Companies who want to improve productivity (and who doesn’t) need to understand that they should create a culture of support and personal responsibility for the work the individual employee is tasked to do, yet provide the tools needed for the times when that employee needs help.
For many young workers, the choices they are making are not healthy.
Mental health is the leading cause of work disability benefits worldwide.[vii] Employees need to understand their personal choice of either taking responsibility and getting better or going on disability.
Ok, we know the problems. So what do we do to solve them?
I mentioned previously about personal responsibility as one of the four keys to a productive life. In the workplace, this is paramount to having a good work experience and to avoid the arena of ‘I can’t handle this.’ According to Dr. Ali Abdaal in his book, ‘Feel-Good Productive’, he states in a podcast of his (paraphrased), “One reason mental illness happens is because the person feels as if they have no power. Personal responsibility gives a person power. People typically think that their work day is like a battery and the more energy I put in, then the more worn down I’ll get. So when I am feeling depressed, I will sit back and do less so as to save my energy, but this is the exact opposite of what happens. In reality, when a person takes charge of a situation and embraces personal responsibility, they become more energetic. Therefore, personal responsibilty is the charger of ones personal energy and power.”
And Frederick Nietsche said, “Joy is the feeling of power increasing.” Again, where does that power come from? It comes from being personally responsible in each situation as much as one can.
Well, I am sure you are say, ‘Well, that sounds great and I wish I could have my staff be more personally responsible, but how do I do that?’ Great question and the answer lies in just giving them more responsibilty. Start small and increase it and then incentivize them when they achieve it.
But there is more to the solution of workplace mental health. I have written several articles on the causes of mental health in society today and the simple, non-medicated or therapy ways to eliminate the causes. Without going into details in this article, the five main causes and solutions to mental health are:
- Social media. This is a huge cause. Reduce or eliminate it to improve mental health.
- Screen time is another cause due to dopamine over stimulation. Reduce or eliminate screen time.
- Sedentary work causes issues. Get up and move!
- Processed foods cause GI issues by depleating brain energy. Eat a Ketogenic diet, take pro biotics and watch problems dissappear. (Research Dr. Chris Palmer and ‘The Root Cause of All Mental Illness’.)
- Isolation caused by ‘screen time’ causes lonliness. Get out and talk to people face to face.
Besides these things, leading a spiritual life and getting enough sleep and being ‘grateful’ will all dramatically improve one’s mental health.
But what if more help is needed. For that, we started Rx4MentalHealth.com. Our program is not a bot or an app. We offer live, scheduled virtual sessions (so from the comfort of your home) with psychologists, therapists, couselors and even psychiatrists on YOUR schedule for unlimited use for just $39.95 a month without any additional fees.* This in partnership with Teladoc who has counselors in all 50 states. As well, you also get a 24 / 7 counselor available for any emergencies that might arise and you get 24 / 7 Telemedicine service for medical issues and a health advocate to help employees negotiate bills and to find providers and help. Our service is available within 48 hours of signing up and includes the whole household 13 and up for no extra cost. Besides all that, we are not part of insurance and so this drives down the cost of health insurance premiums and it is totally confidential and anonymous so there is no stigma.
Our service typicall provides a 3:1 ROI (as calculated by the National Safety Council) – especially when adding in that it lowers insurance premiums next year and directly lowers health care claims for self-insured companies now every time it is used verses the insurance claim.
What does that mean? That means that this is not a ‘benefits’ or ‘HR’ discussion. Our Mental Health program will improve your productivity so much that you will actually profit from it. As shown, with a good mental health program in place, you will definitely help your employees and their families, as well as keep and attract good employees, but you will dramatically improve productivity at the same time.
Improved Mental Health = Improved Productivity.
Matthew Mann Minarik is founder of Rx 4 Mental Health and is a retired Physician Assistant as well as an author and entrepreneur. Matt is also a marketer and strategist and worked for IBM where he became IBM’s #1 marketer in 2001 and 2002. Matt started Restora Health, a virtual direct primary care company in 2018, but has since shifted his virtual care completely to mental health solutions for companies and individuals. Matt is pursuing his doctorate at this time. https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattminarik/