Mental Health

Why workplace anxiety costs us more than you think

An attendee is interviewed by a company representative during the JOBarcelona'14 at the Palau de Congressos de Catalunya in Barcelona, February 18, 2014. JOBarcelona'14 is a two-day job fair targeted at university graduates. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino (SPAIN - Tags: EDUCATION BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) - RTX191YP

It's time we talked openly about mental health Image: REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino

Emma Luxton
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Mental Health

Worldwide, more than 600 million people suffer from depression or anxiety, so there’s a chance that your co-workers, managers and leaders – or perhaps even you – could be among them.

Mental illness often comes with stigma attached. Employees might be reluctant to come forward and tell managers they are suffering for fear of jeopardizing their jobs. And as a result, they might miss out on the treatment they need.

Research by Harvard Medical School found that mental health problems can result in lost productivity, which has economic consequences for businesses.

This lost productivity can manifest itself in two ways: absenteeism (people suffering from mental health problems take 5% more days off work, according to this study) and presentee-ism (people working long hours but with little impact).

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From a business perspective, it makes sense for employers to encourage employees to speak up about mental health issues so they can be supported through treatment. But it is not only employers who could do more: governments also have a part to play.

A study led by the World Health Organization found that, globally and until the year 2030, 12 billion working days will be lost to depression and anxiety every year, unless improvements are made.

The cost of this lost productivity is in the billions of dollars, as the chart below shows. For the global economy, it amounts to a cost of more than $900 billion.

But there's good news: with every dollar invested in improving the care of people with mental health issues, there is a return of $4 for the economy.

 The cost to the global economy of productivity lost due to mental health would amount to more than $900 billion.
Image: The Lancet Psychiatry

Mental health and leadership

Anxiety and other mental health issues can affect people at different stages of their careers. Although C-suite level executives often appear confident, they’re also susceptible to anxiety, say researchers, and this can affect their strategic decision-making.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, a team from the University of Notre Dame and Arizona State University explain that anxious top executives tend not to take risks and that this could mean companies missing out on growth opportunities. However, the same researchers noted that excessive risk taking can also have a negative effect on company fortunes.

It appears that providing the right support to employees and giving them the chance to seek treatment not only improves well-being, but makes financial sense too.

The experts at Harvard Medical School advise employees and employers alike to “think of mental health care as an investment – one that’s worth the up-front time and cost”.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Mental HealthFuture of WorkLeadership
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