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How much does it really cost to ignore support on mental health at work?
Let’s say a solid-performing and experienced employee experiences a life problem. A bereavement, house move, or relationship break up. This episode leads to a form of stress, perhaps triggers anxiety or depression. I.e. a common medical disorder - the type experienced by one in four people in a year.
First, let's consider the ‘cost journey’ of a modestly-salaried employee who is NOT supported by their employer.
They feel down and other problems are triggered. They become unwell. Their performance dips. The team dips. They don’t speak to anyone, self-medicating is tried, mistakes occur. Perhaps business is lost? The manager criticises and initiates a performance warning, the team alienates, sickness increases, relationships are strained and the illness worsens.
As a last resort, persuaded by an exhausted family, the GP is visited, pills prescribed, three weeks off. The employee returns, perhaps to an absence disciplinary, and their annual performance review is poor. The employee is tired, resentful, disengages and eventually leaves.
Recruitment commences for a replacement. The experience is lost.
What’s the cost of this? I would guess thousands. But I’m not guessing. I’ve seen this happen at a household-name FTSE company.
Now let’s see what might happen if that same employee was quickly supported...
The employee becomes unwell. Performance dips, the team dips. The manager sees the signs and initiates a conversation.
The employee discusses a plan and the company pays for six counseling sessions. Flex working is introduced a while. The team rallies. Supported individual introduces changes and work is used as part of their recovery.
The individual takes two weeks unpaid leave to get their energy back and returns, engaged, with a return-to-work plan and a manager who’s got their back. The team responds. In fact, the individual helps others in the team to have that first conversation and start their recovery.
Plus there's the net-promotor factor of a happy, engaged employee - who's family also think you're a decent employer.
Cost: hundreds. Or could it even be net positive?
Two critical aspects here: first, I acknowledge I have chosen bereavement as the illness trigger. The costs may be closer if the time off is due to work stress. But, and more critically, there will still be a gap. I’ve seen it happen too.
Secondly, and vitally, a good leader/manager is able to represent the supportive culture. In doing so, good mental health support could save your company thousands.
I know there are lots of variables in this journey. But it's happening to thousands of people every day. Some of them will be workng with you. One day it could be you.
Take it upon yourself to ask questions, create change and get the conversation going. It helps everybody.