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Two women at a coffee shop discussing mental health in the workplace.

This article was originally published in Bizwomen.

A Matter of Mental Health

While much has been written on the subject of mental health, especially in light of numerous athletes speaking out about their own struggles, there continues to be a disconnect between mental health and its larger role in the workplace.

Mental Health is costly to companies and their workers

Meg Welch, CMO, Rebel & Co, a research and strategy firm, Tampa Florida

When two-time Olympian Simone Biles recently withdrew herself from the Olympic games, she sent millions into a confused frenzy with her abrupt exit. Why would the G.O.A.T. give up the chance to defend her Best All-Around title and the shot at taking home more medals? Biles wasn’t injured or sick; she pulled herself out of the competition because she did not feel she was mentally fit to compete.

This has helped surface a larger conversation around mental health and the courage it takes to speak up. Despite the ongoing dialogue, corporate America is still struggling to grasp just how much these matters of the mind affect all aspects of business on a daily and long-term basis. Ignoring the mental well-being of athletes and employees alike isn’t an option anymore, the stakes are high, and the cost is too great.

Depression and anxiety cost the global econoy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

Lost productivity

Depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. So what is one of the leading causes of mental health issues among adults?

A negative work environment.

Fueled by high-pressure situations and unempathetic leadership, employees aren’t able to balance the needs of their employees and the needs of the company; as a result, feelings of anxiety and depression continue to rise in the workplace.

Forty-eight percent of people experienced high to extreme stress over the past year, a 7% increase compared to two years ago, according to Ginger’s 2021 State of Employee Mental Health Report. Given the pandemic, many of us have experienced a noticeable increase in stress levels, yet many companies are falling short in providing adequate help. People with symptoms of anxiety and depression reported missing roughly six times more workdays per year than those without mental health conditions.

Loss of employees

In 2020, a Women in the Workplace Study showed 25% of women considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace entirely. COVID-19 negatively impacted the careers of more women than men, especially women of color. From being first on the chopping block when it came to layoffs or furloughs, to having to figure out how to care for their children as schools and childcare services shut down—women have faced an enormous amount of mental distress this past year and it is forcing them to reevaluate their career paths.

Additionally, by 2030 the number of Gen Z’ers in the workforce is projected to grow by 51 million. Sixty percent of those Gen Z employees in McKinsey’s survey reported that mental health resources were a top priority when considering an employer, and 57% said that it affected their decision whether or not to stay with a current employer.

Loss of customers

How a company treats mental health affects its bottom line, its ability to recruit talent, and the public perception of the brand as a whole. Gone are the days when companies could get away with just offering a great product/service to win customers. Value-driven customers make decisions based on a brand’s ethics and whether or not their values align. If a brand comes off as insensitive to an issue that matters to them, they will take their business elsewhere.

The solution? Put people first.

This year, Bumble and LinkedIn made headlines by offering team members a paid week off to cope with pandemic-related stress and burnout; other companies such as SAP, Cisco, Google, and Thomson Reuters have institutionalized mental health days. Not all companies can afford to follow suit, but they can start by taking baby steps and normalizing discussions about mental health as well as providing adequate resources at the workplace.

Take note from these Olympic greats that have courageously spoken out and paved the way for more conversations to take place. They spoke up, stepped back, and marched courageously into the uncharted territory of discussing mental health while under tremendous pressure.

At the end of the day, business is all about people; without a healthy workforce and customer base, there is no business. Companies must join the larger conversation around mental health and strive to make deeper, more authentic connections with their team members and their customers.