As I’m sure you may have seen, I often write around a central theme: Mental Health. I am incredibly passionate about it, not only because of the continued, emerging dialogue, but also because it can deeply affect our physical health. I’ve written about how lack of health insurance coverage, brand initiatives to combat mental health challenges, new mobile opportunities for care, and more. To add to that, the discussion about mental health and bullying in the workplace is rising dramatically. In the past we have had allusions to this with books like Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence. In recent years, businesses and leaders in the industry are factoring these considerations when considering company culture, productivity, employee retention and more.

Publications today have been actively noting the role of mental health in the workplace. For instance, Women’s Day magazine published an article in January 2020 that highlights steps to address challenges that people face. The author notes the cost of depression in the workplace by noting the staggering number of 200 million work days lost each year, costing employers anywhere from $17 to $44 billion (and approximately $1.7 million per company of 1,000 employees or more). Concurrently, if steps are taken to address these challenges, an average of $1 spent treating people with depression issues can create $4 of healthy productivity. The article also features some contradictory advice – it acknowledges that there’s still a significant stigma around mental health in the workplace, it’s noted that individuals should be careful about what they reveal at work, but later recommend opening up to co-workers to discuss what’s going on or find a new job if you’re unsupported. Furthermore, the American Psychiatric Association released a poll that revealed only about half of individuals feel comfortable discussing mental health issues in the workplace.

Time Magazine also recently published an article a few days ago that highlights companies that are teaching employees first aid for mental health situations.  The National Council for Behavioral Health has taken to offering “Mental Health First Aid at Work” lessons to companies for a fee. The author highlights Delta Airlines, which purchased training for their employees after one of their colleagues committed suicide. The Delta employees learned how to spot symptoms and refer their distressed colleagues to appropriate resources, including Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).

When we reflect on how this can manifest in the work environment, we can consider that studies have shown that while having a job is positive, a negative workplace can be a significant source of both mental and physical problems. The World Health Organization goes further to note that risks to mental health include poor communication and management practices, unclear tasks and organizational objectives. Bullying and psychological harassment are also a clear cause of work-related stress and are shown to impact productivity, morale and culture and this risk may be increased when there is a lack of team cohesion or social support. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) notes that bullying is defined as abusive conduct that is humiliating, intimidating, or threatening, includes verbal abuse, is driven by a need to control, having similarities with domestic abuse. Obviously, these factors will deeply affect an individual physically due to the relationship of mental health on physical health. WBI cites that prolonged exposure to bullying can result in health issues related to hypertension, strokes, auto-immune disorders, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and much more. Research also shows that workplace bullying has been linked to symptomatology that resembles post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It’s clear that businesses stand to gain from addressing mental health challenges in the workplace and addressing abusive behavior that contributes to stress. Not only are targeted individuals skilled at their jobs, WBI notes that the most easily exploited targets are people with a desire to help, heal, teach, develop, and nurture others; in other words, ideal team players with high emotional intelligence. And yet, these targets are often submissive, with 40% of bullied individuals not reporting it to their employer and 72% of bullies being bosses, which allows them to act without consequence. This is especially true when an organization refuses to hold the bully accountable or “misapplies the tools of traditional conflict resolution,” like mediation to manage the issue. And while the cost of a bully is high, executives often see the short term returns from the individual as a reason for inaction.

As we move forward, it’s important to understand and recognize that we live in an exceedingly complex society. With that, businesses are increasingly looking to get ahead to find ways to innovate, be first-to-market, and provide value. However, unless a company reevaluates their corporate culture and the mental health of their employees, there will be a limit to what they can achieve. Here are the facts:

  • Frequent voluntary turnover dramatically affects productivity and morale
  • Over 77% of employees who quit could have been retained
  • Two of the top reasons employees left was due to manager behavior (11%) and work-life balance (13%)
  • Managers can keep more employees if they focus on needs and expectations
  • Financial cost of replacing employees is 20% of the salary for midrange employees and 213% for highly-educated positions with salaries of $100k and up.
  • Presenteeism, absenteeism, and other effects of mental health challenges can cause issues like difficulty concentrating (70%), likelihood of conflict with colleagues (22%), and difficulty making decisions (39%).

Beyond moral responsibility, companies need to consider the true cost of not addressing the issue of mental health and bullying as well as how can affect their long-term goals as a company. To truly innovate and promote productivity, it is going to be increasingly important for companies to consider the ways in which they can properly support the mental health of their employees and cull out workplace intimidation and bullying.

About the Author:

A creative director by trade, Cheena has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, startups and agencies. Specializing in using design thinking, technology and strategy to build out creative solutions, she adds her expertise to the Syneos Health Communications team as Director of Innovation. During her career, she has been at the cutting edge of the industry with experience in augmented reality, social listening, media theory and user experience. With over 13 years of experience, much of her focus has revolved around solving communication challenges and creating brand engagement in a culturally relevant way. She also has been an instructor at Miami Ad School NY for over 6 years, mentoring new creatives on developing integrated campaigns, understanding media, interactive concepting, and working with account planning teams.