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Why mental health in the workplace matters

Wellbeing is high on the agenda for organisations, but mental health still proves to be a difficult concept to tackle, says Myrna Sachs, head of Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions.
The mental health landscape has changed so much it is almost unrecognisable, yet most organisations still don’t see mental health – the invisible illness – as a priority. For it to be taken more seriously, employers need to understand the impact it has, not only on the individual but also on the business.

Mental health problems including depression, stress, anxiety, panic disorders can result in absenteeism. Looking after our mental health is therefore key to our overall wellbeing.

In October 2018, the World Health Organisation noted that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The impact of mental health issues on an individual in the workplace can include: increased absenteeism, late-coming and longer breaks, conflict in the workplace and erratic behaviour, decline in productivity, not meeting deadlines, lowered concentration and workplace incidents and accidents. If we don’t start to take mental health seriously, it may well damage an organisations reputation, profitability or eventually bring a business to its knees.

Fortunately, there is a growing recognition of the importance of helping young people build mental resilience, in order to cope with the challenges of today’s world. According to the World Health Federation, evidence is growing that promoting and protecting adolescent health brings benefits not just to adolescents’ health, both in the short- and the long-term, but also to economies and society, with healthy young adults able to make greater contributions to the workforce, their families and communities and society as a whole.

Around 25% of all leave applications received at present are due to mental and behavioural issues, according to data from Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions. Statistics from the World Federation for Mental Health in 2017, show that on average 36 workdays are lost per episode and that 10% of the employed populations have taken time off work for depression.

 How depression manifests in the work place

Our data continues to reveal a steady increase in the number of South African employees suffering from mental health problems over the past five years.  When you have poor mental health, organising and managing financial issues becomes trickier. This in turn creates a sense of fear, anxiety and worry, once again affecting your overall mental health.

Programmes to assist employers in curbing sick absenteeism have proved successful, with some Alexander Forbes Health clients reporting savings of up to 33% man-days per year.  This equates to a saving of one day for every three days taken, however, high level traction in the programme can only be seen within one to two years after implementation.

Data from another Alexander Forbes Health client revealed their staff were taking six to 10 days leave a year, when more than five years ago, this was just two to three days a year. A perpetual user can take 30 sick days a year and end up taking unpaid leave the following year, this ends up costing the employee money and has a ripple effect on their finances.

Absenteeism management can help companies to focus on what the real causes are. Identify high risk individuals and between HR and line managers, help them address their issues using absenteeism benchmarking.

Direct and indirect savings on absenteeism in workplace are proven to be up to six times what you pay for the absenteeism management. To maintain a healthy and productive workforce, companies need an all-encompassing approach which takes into account the employee’s physical, emotional, financial and social well-being.

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