• 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental disorder at least once in their life.
  • Highly-engaged employees should struggle less with mental health.
  • Teamworking, workplace culture and prevention are critical.

One in four people worldwide will suffer from a mental disorder at least once in their life. In the European Union alone, estimates suggest that some 50 million people are affected. In addition to significant suffering of those directly affected and their families, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety cost the economy roughly $US1 trillion worldwide each year due to productivity losses. But despite the pervasiveness of mental disorders and the tremendous cost to individuals, society and the economy, mental issues are often still stigmatized and considered a taboo topic. For companies, it is important to proactively support the mental health of its employees – not just for economic reasons, but also to ensure inclusion and prevention in the workplace, particularly since some triggers for mental disorders can often be found at work.

The World Health Organization (WHO) includes mental disorders on its list of work-related illnesses. Indeed, work can cause not only physical issues, but mental ones as well. People exposed to chronic stress in their everyday work, for example, have a significantly higher risk of developing symptoms of depression or anxiety. It is also worth noting that such symptoms affect not only individuals under constant physical or mental stress, but also those who find their work chronically unchallenging or unstimulating.

Chronic stress or excessive strain at work – as well as chronic under-stimulation, poor leadership, or a lack of input in decision-making – can have serious mental health consequences. Repeated negative experiences in the workplace can lead to social isolation and a sense of estrangement from one’s own work, which only strengthens the negative impact on health and well-being. A vicious cycle can quickly take hold. But it’s also possible to break out of this pattern. Work can indeed be a risk factor for mental disorders, but it is also proven that work can be a source of mental strength and positively contribute to overall mental health and well-being. With good leadership and a supportive work environment, work serves as a “health resource” that can help prevent mental illness or make it less common.

To achieve this, we at Deutsche Post DHL Group take a holistic, inclusive approach based on three core principles:

1. We make sure to all stakeholders are onboard with regard to health and prevention. For us, this means bringing management, unions, the works council, and external health experts to the table and working together. In developing and implementing health and prevention programs, we also collaborate with research organizations, health, labor and social policy organizations, as well as with external partners such as health insurance providers.

2. The leadership culture we foster and advocate throughout the Group takes the impact of good leadership on mental health into consideration. Among other tools to help guide our managers, we have defined specific leadership attributes that provide guidance for managers in how to act and lead. The attributes are built on the principle of leading with "head, heart and guts" – leadership that combines purposeful, goal-driven management with passion, compassion and courage. This means we empower our managers to motivate their people, establish relationships of mutual trust within their teams, and give staff the sense their work is meaningful – all of which is essential to a healthy work environment. This involves regular, comprehensive training for managers, such as our curriculum on “leadership and mental health”, which focuses on managers’ own health and the impact of their leadership style on the health of their teams. Promoting mental health is also a core element of our group’s health, safety and well-being strategy.

3. We focus on prevention and provide our approximately 550,000 employees around the world with ways to promote their health and well-being, including yoga, mindfulness, meditation and stress management training.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes - promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

Another risk factor for mental disorders is the lack of meaningful work. Scientific research has demonstrated the close correlation between work that is perceived as non-meaningful and symptoms such as exhaustion or sleep disorders. Conversely, having a sense of purpose and meaning in your work – in terms of both the company mission and your own role within the company – can be an important contributor to good mental and emotional health. Our fundamental purpose at Deutsche Post DHL Group is to connect people and improve lives. And part of improving lives is our commitment to corporate responsibility, which includes our sustainability goals. Our group-wide environmental protection program GoGreen is an example of this, as is our climate target to reduce all logistics-related carbon emissions to zero by the year 2050. Our people are involved in these programmes and measures in a number of different ways, and have the opportunity to become certified GoGreen experts or initiate their own volunteer projects.

germany workplace strees mental health
Germany's burned-out workforce
Image: Gallup

Our company mission and sustainability goals provide our people with a sense of purpose and meaning, as well as opportunities to develop both personally and professionally – all of which makes an important contribution to a healthy, positive and motivating work environment. An internal analysis of the sickness rate among 110,000 employees from 3,200 different teams revealed that sickness rates can be reduced most effectively by making sure employees are highly engaged and feel involved in decision-making. This also happens to improve employee performance, customer satisfaction levels, and an individual’s willingness to change.

Mental health in the workplace is an important issue that we are committed to addressing. We certainly have a bottom-line interest in this, since mental disorders are a significant contributor to absenteeism and directly impact productivity. But our strong sense of corporate and social responsibility is another motivating factor, especially since the workplace itself can all too often play a role in contributing to mental disorders. One of our core goals at Deutsche Post DHL Group is to become Employer of Choice, and in order to achieve this, we foster a corporate culture in which mental illness is not stigmatized but addressed openly and constructively. Ultimately everyone benefits: employees, managers, stakeholders and society as a whole.

Conclusion: Important take-aways from almost 10 years of focusing on mental health:

1. Talk about issues and challenges openly, at any time and at all management levels to prevent stigmatization from the outset.

2. Make mental health a leadership task and empower managers through continuous training so that they can adequately manage the issue.

3. Make the promotion of mental health an integral part of your Occupational Health and Well-being Program – and make it relevant for the whole organization.