Wellbeing and Mental Health

How to tackle the mounting crisis of workforce mental health

We need to normalize mental health conversations within the workplace.

We need to normalize mental health conversations within the workplace. Image: Getty Images.

Aleksandra Agatowska
Chief Executive Officer, PZU Życie, PZU Group
Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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Mental Health

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Employee mental health can influence productivity, innovation and economic prosperity.
  • Organizations must help tackle this public health crisis by supporting individuals and communities.
  • We outline how to shape mental health policies in the workplace and champion a culture of care.

In the complex mosaic of global challenges, few threads are as critical as the mental well-being of our workforce. Beyond being a moral obligation, employee mental health is a strategic cornerstone for organizational success – influencing productivity, innovation and economic prosperity. In Europe, the mental health crisis is stark. The 2023 Eurobarometer survey revealed 46% of respondents faced emotional or psychosocial issues last year, yet over half did not seek professional help – signalling cracks in healthcare infrastructure when people are most vulnerable.

Poland mirrors the regional instability. Last year, almost 1.3 million sick leaves were issued due to mental and behavioural disorders, which translated into 23.8 million days of sickness absence. That's 10% of all absences caused by temporary inability to work. Mental and behavioural disorders rank high among diseases.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

In research IQS commissioned by PZU, 84% of Poles declared that mental health is the most important area affecting their overall well-being. Numerous studies confirmed that work has an impact on employees' mental health, which proves the need for active actions to support employees' mental resilience.

Almost 90% of employees see the need for employers to introduce a programme that takes care of mental health and expects the company to help those who need it, also providing access to specialist support if necessary. Despite these figures, only 18.5% of Polish employees declare that there is openness within their organization when it comes to reporting mental problems.

Threats to global workforce optimization

The turmoil employees face spans work stresses exacerbated by the pandemic to climate anxiety. The implications go beyond individual distress. Unresolved mental health issues raising absenteeism and attrition while lowering engagement substantially decrease productivity and raise costs for organizations over time.

As internal culture shapes external perception, poor mental health cascades into reputation loss, customer churn and declining revenue. Addressing this crisis is mission-critical for organizational sustainability, societal resilience and global workforce optimization in the 21st century landscape defined by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

As internal culture and external reputation grow more interlinked, often an organization’s competitiveness is defined by the holistic employee experience nurtured within. In times of uncertainty and climate anxiety, mental health support structures in the workplace become more critical than ever in retaining and engaging talent fully.

Need for urgency

Clearly, there is an inextricable link between our own sustainability as corporations and the well-being of employees that power progress. Only by tackling this public health crisis together through cooperative frameworks, healing both individuals and communities, can we unlock our collective potential fully.

As employers shape cultural ethos and access to care, they are uniquely positioned to drive change. While many progressive interventions exist, from psychological counselling and hybrid work policies to resilience training and community service initiatives, adoption remains siloed. This demands an integrated approach aligned to the future of work.

Multidimensional solutions

While the challenges seem monumental, solutions exist on multiple fronts. Workplace policies, cultural ethos and access to mental health benefits frame employer action in driving positive change. Yet despite being uniquely positioned to shape outcomes, many companies haven’t prioritized mental health enough within their ecosystems. This demands urgent focus on normalizing mental health conversations within the corporate fabric.

To tackle these challenges, it's imperative to shape workplace policies, benefits, and cultural norms that prioritize mental health. Initiatives like the World Economic Forum's Mental Health in the Workplace, part of the larger Healthy Workplaces initiative, stand as beacons of collaborative efforts aimed at synthesizing evidence-based holistic solutions. These endeavours involve stakeholders from diverse sectors and demographics, fostering employee health and societal resilience on a global scale.

Among the proactive participants in this global initiative is leading insurer PZU. Their multidimensional framework, epitomized in the #WellBeing strategy, blends vital energy, mental resilience, and work-life balance through a repertoire of diverse initiatives. Their suite of offerings includes confidential hotlines for emotional support, online guidance platforms, workplace volunteering drives, and hybrid work facilities. Active research and collaboration across hierarchies embed mental health as a core priority, fostering a culture of care and trust.

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Employees access crucial counsel during personal or professional challenges via hotlines, while online platforms offer essential guidance during mental crises. Embracing remote work empowers better harmony between responsibilities, and volunteer drives unite the community behind larger social causes. Ultimately, these interventions not only enable access to support but also drive cultural change, nurturing resilience amidst escalating complexity and uncertainty.

As we confront the escalating mental health crisis within the workforce, we can unleash the transformative power of collaboration between employers, governments, non-profits, and health providers. PZU Życie's (life-insurer within PZU Group) multifaceted initiatives demonstrate that financial leaders can play a pivotal role in shaping a healthier, more resilient workforce. Its commitment to education, exemplified through conferences, webinars, and dedicated well-being platforms is completed with a whole ecosystem of life-insurance products, services (medical care, including psychologic consultations) and benefits (free access to sports activities) that help other companies take care of their employee wellbeing. After all, mental health cannot be separated from good physical health and positive social relations at the same time.

Clarion call for change for better mental health

As we stand at a critical juncture, our imperative is clear - we must champion a culture of care, resilience and vitality within our global workplaces. The 21st century employer must move beyond a transactional view of the workforce. Holistic strategies embedded within the organizational DNA spanning emotional support structures, flexible work policies, access to mental health services and a spirit of trust, transparency and collective purpose are key to nurturing flourishing workforces and prosperous economies.

Together, let’s build inclusive systems where everyone has the scaffolding to thrive despite escalating complexity. Our shared future depends on the well-being we invest to uplift today. The only way ahead is together. Collective commitment from stakeholders across sectors can uplift individual wellbeing, optimize workforces globally, spur future-readiness and unlock socioeconomic prosperity. As we stand at a precipice, the need to support employee mental health is clear and urgent. Our ability to forge inclusive systems where everyone is empowered to thrive hinges on the priority we accord to this issue today. The future starts now.

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Wellbeing and Mental HealthForum InstitutionalJobs and the Future of WorkHealth and Healthcare Systems
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