Wellbeing and Mental Health

How business can lead a global response to the mental health crisis

A man thinking on a beach, illustrating the mental health crisis

The mental health crisis is impacting the world of work. Image: Stefan Spassov/Unsplash

Ruma Bhargava
Lead, Mental Health, World Economic Forum
Poppy Jaman
Chair, GBC and Founder and Vice Chair, Mind Forward Alliance
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This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare
  • With the world in the midst of a mental health crisis, more focus is being placed on understanding and addressing the interplay of work and mental wellbeing.
  • Many corporate leaders now recognize they have a responsibility to support employee mental health and are working together to identify common issues and share solutions.
  • A growing body of research can help guide their response, including a new report from the Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health.

The world is grappling with a global mental health crisis that shows little sign of receding – with the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in living costs and mounting global challenges compounding pre-existing issues and increasing uncertainty for many.

Roughly 15% of the global working-age population suffers from mental illness according to the World Health Organization, affecting not just individual lives and relationships, but also the world of work. Depression and anxiety cost the global economy approximately $1 trillion – or 12 billion days of lost work – each year. Recent research by Deloitte also shows that Gen Zs and millennials, who make up the vast majority of the working population, are particularly impacted, with 40% of Gen Zs and 35% of millennials feeling stressed or anxious all or most of the time and nearly half experiencing workplace burnout.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

The business imperative to act on mental health

These figures call for urgent action. They present employers of all sizes and sectors with an imperative to better understand the interactions of work and mental health – in terms of how work can protect or undermine well-being and how mental health challenges impact the performance and attitudes of people in the workplace.

Good work and good health go hand in hand. In fact, evidence shows that employment can improve mental health outcomes to a greater extent than psychiatric care. With work being so central to people’s lives and sense of identity, businesses have a responsibility to provide working environments that enable current and future generations of employees to thrive and adapt to a fast-changing world.

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Collaborating for a more effective response

Faced with a challenge of this magnitude, no individual company or leader can be expected to find the answers on their own. This is why organizations across industries and geographies are coming together in a number of collaborative initiatives to better understand issues, share best practices and find common solutions.

The World Economic Forum’s Healthy Workforces Initiative brings together over 50 global organizations from the public and private sector, academia and civil society improving the physical and mental health of employees, their families and their communities. The initiative aims to bring visibility to best practices, relevant measurements and the business case for making investments in mental health initiatives within the workplace.

Similarly, the Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health (GBC) was launched at Davos in 2021 to create a platform for collaboration between businesses, mental health experts and strategic partners, including the World Economic Forum. In the three-year span of the campaign, the GBC has engaged 175 companies in 62 countries, with their most senior leaders signing its Leadership Pledge and committing their organizations to prioritize workplace mental health through six key actions.

The importance of data-driven decision making

The culmination of the GBC campaign is the publication of in-depth research, based on the responses from 12,000 workers in 12 countries, including a number of Global South markets with limited prior data on workplace mental health. The resulting report, The Global Picture: Mental Health in the Workplace paints a detailed picture of employees’ mental health challenges, their work-related drivers and the impacts they have on people in the workplace. Importantly, it also identifies steps that employers can take to protect and support the mental well-being of their workforce.

The numbers are sobering. Over half of respondents say they are experiencing, or have experienced, mental health challenges – with that proportion reaching 65% among Gen Zs. Among those affected, a third have been less productive or have considered leaving their job. Overall, only 56% of respondents believe that supporting employee mental health is a high priority for their employer. And, half of those who have shared mental health challenges with their line manager say they have been discriminated against as a result.

Mental health in the workplace in numbers
Image: The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health

Yet, the report also shows that many indicators improve radically when heads of organizations speak up about mental health or when line managers are equipped to hold supportive conversations. This shows the impact that employers can have when they make supporting wellbeing a strategic priority and signposts to the most effective actions leaders can take in de-stigmatizing mental health in the workplace.

Building resilient workplaces and societies

We believe that insights such as these and increased collaboration across sectors and regions are crucial in turning an era-defining challenge into a generational opportunity. Informed by increasingly detailed data and guided by open conversations around best practices, the actions businesses take today will pave the way for building resilient and adaptable workplaces and drive even broader societal change through positive impacts on workers’ families and communities.

Through its potential for collaboration and insight-driven action, businesses must lead the way in turning the tide on the mental health crisis. But this isn’t a race to be won by individual organizations, it’s a journey that we will all benefit from making together.

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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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