The Importance of Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Business impact and how to support your employees.

Published Date: Jul 26, 2023

Mental health in the workplace has gotten a lot of attention in recent years—and for very good reason.

Aside from the fact that mental health challenges have become so pervasive, impacting people’s quality of life, they are set to be responsible for 35% of lost productivity between 2011 and 2031. (In comparison, cancer and diabetes are expected to account for 18% and 4%, respectively.)

And it’s not just diagnosed mental health conditions like depression that are concerning.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 71% of adults report experiencing at least one symptom of stress, such as feeling overwhelmed or anxious at least once over the past month. And a 2021 APA  survey found that 59% of employees said they experienced negative impacts of work-related stress in the last month.

Poor mental health often begets physical health issues that can further limit a person’s ability to perform. For example, mental health and chronic pain are strongly linked, in part because these concerns both involve the same neural pathways in the brain.

This article delves into the business impact of mental health issues in the workplace, common struggles employees are facing, and how investing in efforts that improve mental health can benefit your organization.

How Employee Mental Health Impacts Your Business

Mental health’s impact on quality of life can’t be contained to an employee’s off hours. It spills over into the workplace, with businesses seeing not just an effect on things like morale and attendance, but production and spending.

According to Mental Health America's 2022 Mind the Workplace report, untreated mental health-related issues can lead to:

  • Decrease in job performance: Employees who are not thinking clearly may struggle to perform to their full capacity.

  • Decrease in physical capability: Workers who are exhausted or are struggling with substance abuse may not be able to perform physical aspects of their jobs as well as they would otherwise.

  • Communication problems: Employees struggling with their mental health may be overly emotional, struggle to listen, or lack assertiveness. They may also speak more slowly, causing them to be interrupted more.

  • Decrease in job satisfaction: This aspect of quality of life is a key factor affecting employee turnover and presenteeism.

  • Increase in absenteeism: According to a Gallup well-being poll, 19% of U.S. workers rate their mental health as just fair or poor. They have four times more unplanned absences due to poor mental health compared to workers who report good, very good, or excellent mental health.

A meta-analysis conducted by the University of California, Riverside found organizations that invested in both physical and emotional well-being had a 5% increase in productivity. Each dollar a company spent on wellness programs saved $3.27 on healthcare costs, as well.

Common Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

There are a myriad of mental health issues that can affect employees in the workplace. These are among the most common:

  • Stress: Workplace stress is a person's negative physical and emotional responses when the requirements of their job don't match their capabilities or resources. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reports that 40% of workers say their jobs are very or extremely stressful. Higher stress is linked to lower productivity scores and reduced work satisfaction.

  • Anxiety: Anxiety is stress that becomes persistent, irrational, and overwhelming. This can impact workplace performance, relationships with coworkers and superiors, and quality of work, according to a survey from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

  • Depression: Depression is a persistent sadness and loss of interest in activities. It can make it hard to carry out daily duties and leads to both absenteeism and lost productivity in the workplace. This costs employers $17 billion to $44 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Burnout: Although burnout is not a medical diagnosis, it is a common type of work-related stress. A 2022 survey by Deloitte found that 77% of respondents had experienced employee burnout at their current job.

  • Substance abuse: When some employees feel stressed, they may turn to substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and painkillers to get through the day. This can be especially tricky if your company has a workplace culture that supports alcohol as a way to socialize and cope with stress. Substance abuse can lead to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and increased mistakes and injury at work. According to the National Safety Council, 9% of working adults have a substance use disorder.

Contributors to Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

According to the World Health Organization, some of the workplace problems that can contribute to mental health issues in employees include:

  • Excessive workload

  • Under-promotion

  • Lack of control over job design 

  • Unclear job role

  • Conflicting work demands

  • Inflexible hours

  • Poor working conditions

  • Job insecurity

In addition to providing employees with support that can help them better handle issues outside of work, organizations must look at their own culture, policies, and processes to see where they may be impacting employees’ mental health.

Leaders must also “walk the talk,” fostering an environment of awareness and acceptance that can help employees feel more comfortable recognizing and addressing their struggles.

Physical health can impact mental health, and vice versa. For example, chronic pain can make someone fear physical activity. That anxiety can cause them to avoid exercise, leading to weight gain and a reduction in muscle strength. This only puts more stress on the joints and worsens stiffness.

The domino effect continues with increased mental stress from functional limitations and, in some cases, depression and decreased self-worth. 

According to a December 2022 study in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, chronic MSK pain is associated with impaired mental health, including anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia. The higher the pain, the more mental health symptoms participants experienced, especially anxiety, researchers found.

The cost of treating people with both mental and physical conditions is 2 to 3 times higher than those who do not have co-occurring illnesses, according to the CDC.

As you work to help your employees improve their mental health, remember the role their physical health can play, too.

8 Strategies for Encouraging Better Mental Health in the Workplace

You can do a lot to become a champion of mental health in the workplace.

Review mental health at employee orientation. Let employees know from the beginning that your company prioritizes mental health. Address it in your mission and vision, and describe the related benefits offered.

Share confidential mental health self-assessment tools with employees. Provide employees with external tools to assess their mental well-being.  Emphasize that these don’t provide a diagnosis, but can help determine if further assessment from a mental health professional might be warranted.

Consider targeted distribution of materials about mental health issues and other concerns that can contribute to them. For example, you might provide information on postpartum recovery and mood disorders to employees about to go on family leave after a birth.

Acknowledge mental health awareness campaigns. You can celebrate and acknowledge various mental health awareness campaigns throughout the year: Mental Health Month is May; National Suicide Prevention Week is in September; and National Depression Screening Day is October 7, during Mental Illness Awareness Week. Check out organizations like Mental Health America for free resources to distribute to employees. 

Host seminars or workshops addressing mental health issues. You might bring in an expert to cover topics such as depression, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation to help employees reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus and motivation.

Consider company mental health days. Personal days can always be used as mental health days. But by granting time off specifically earmarked for tending to one’s mental health, you convey the importance of taking it for this purpose.

Train managers on mental health. Train direct managers to speak appropriately with their employees about mental health, promote good work-life balance, and to avoid discriminating against people with mental health conditions. Have managers tell employees it's OK to speak up if they have mental health concerns in their job.

Address contributors to mental health. Your employees’ mental health is impacted by many factors in their lives, including money and physical health. Assistance in these areas can end up having a mental health impact. For example, offer financial planning help or a program that helps address chronic pain, such as Hinge Health.

By taking steps to improve employees’ mental health, you’re helping to buffer your business from the impact of related concerns. But you’re also showing your employees that you are invested in their well-being and value their contributions.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

Joint or muscle pain touches virtually every area of your business. Sufferers are less productive and more likely to be absent or prone to presenteeism. And with rates of new chronic pain cases soaring, already-high related healthcare costs will only continue to grow.

Hinge Health is a clinically complete MSK care approach that keeps members engaged. For everything from minor sprains to chronic pain, our care team uses advanced technology to manage member pain and remove barriers to recovery.

Studies demonstrate that our powerful, clinically validated digital MSK solution yields positive long-term outcomes and claims reductions.

There are many health issues you can’t have much of an impact on.

This isn’t one of them.

Let’s talk about how we can get to work for you.

The pain crisis affecting your workforce

Additional Resources