Health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is not merely the absence of disease but rather the condition of one’s physical and mental wellbeing. But more often than not, health is measured by its physical conditions without regard for the direct effects that mental health can have on physical health. The unfortunate truth is that 47% of people with significant mental stress also experience a reduction in their physical health. In fact, mental health issues alone account for over 3/4th of Canadian short-term disability claims. So, why aren’t we addressing mental health first and foremost when discussing the state of our individual health and the health of our communities and workforces?
How mental health affects physical health
Poor physical health is multifaceted and very complex. Chronic health conditions such as obesity – primarily caused by poor nutrition and physical inactivity – are the leading cause of death in our modern era. And although physical inactivity and improper nutrition are the primary contributing factors to poor physical health, a mentally stressful workplace can play a critical role in the state of an individual’s overall health status. Specifically, poor mental health can lead to problems with weight management often as a result of reward seeking behaviors associated with unhealthy foods and poor eating habits.
In total each year, absenteeism costs Canadian employers $16.5 Billion dollars in lost revenue. To look at it from the individual level, someone with Type II Diabetes will miss on average 18.1 days of work per year compared to someone without the condition who would miss on average only 3.4 days of work. What’s especially alarming is that physical illnesses have in fact been shown to be three times more likely to occur when mental conditions are present. Therefore, although physical health is a more obvious indication of employee health, it’s crucial to also consider employee’s mental health.
The state of mental health in Canadian workplaces
Luckily for employers today, a community of researchers is working to gain a deeper understanding of the state of mental health amongst our population. We now know that 1 in 4 Canadian workers define their daily work lives as highly stressful and most identified work as being the main source of their stress. But without a stack of doctor’s notes from their employee’s, how are employers supposed to spot the problem and know to make impactful change? The key to this dilemma is an open dialogue between employer and employee, education for managers to better identify mental and physical health risk factors, and proactive action through workplace wellness programming to avoid the deterioration of mental health amongst employees.
To get the conversation started about mental health and wellness in the workplace, challenge your team to sign up for the 30-day Horizon Mental Health Challenge!
Presenteeism: frequently overlooked, extremely important
When an employee suffers illness or injury, the most easily notable costs to the employer are those associated with absenteeism. However, it’s now been made evident that there are a variety of ways to measure the direct costs associated with a reduction in physical and mental health and wellness. Specifically, something which is very often overlooked, and extremely important to the measurement of costs regarding mental stress, is “presenteeism”.
To put it simply, employers can no longer solely rely upon physical absence as a means of lost productivity. Unresolved mental stress most often results in a significant loss of productivity through employees not being fully functional or “mentally present” during work hours. This means that although an employee is not absent from work, if they are not “mentally present” their productivity will suffer resulting in a direct loss to the employer.
Spot the problem before it costs
The link between stress, mental health and employee absence remains a significant challenge for many Canadian employers. Yet the early signs of poor mental health in the workplace can be seen when employees begin to experience illnesses or conditions that are not directly related to their jobs like back pain, headaches, arthritis, and skin disorders. Unresolved mental stress can also manifest as anxiety and depression and very often lead to significant physical effects like hypertension, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal disorders, and cardiovascular disease.
So although not all work-related stress is the same, it is very clear that poor mental health in the workplace has a significant negative impact on both physical and mental well-being of employees. The balance between physical and mental wellbeing are very closely connected and integral aspects of worker and organizational productivity, both on and off the job.
Make positive changes
Mental health is generally understood as a state of wellbeing where individuals can deal with daily stresses and realize their own potential. All too often it’s only when an employee is diagnosed that the employer recognizes the lack of mental wellness. For employee health to be made a priority, the employer must first understand the requirements of each working position along with the ability of employees to successfully complete those requirements. By working with an experienced occupational health and safety provider, employers can rest assured that the health and safety of employees will be kept top of mind.