Should employee mental health be a board-level metric?
Mental health is a bottom-line issue – and thanks to COVID-19, it’s finally being treated as one.
Here are a few of the figures:
- Untreated depression slashes an employee’s productivity by 35%.
- In the US, mental illness at work costs the economy an estimated $210.5 billion a year.
- The cost of treating work related stress in Germany cost 1.6 billion Euros.
- In the UK, work-related stress, depression and anxiety were responsible for 55% of all sickness absence in 2019/20. That’s 17.9 million workdays lost.
- 80% of workers who receive treatment for mental illness report improved productivity and job satisfaction.
Any company that wants to be competitive needs mental health to be a priority. But C-level execs and board members rarely have the time or inclination to prioritise things they can’t quantify or measure.
This is why, to create real improvements in mental health that last beyond pandemic crisis management, it’s vital to agree on metrics to report to the board. They’ll be far more predisposed to invest in mental health measures when they can see the numerical impact of those measures on employee wellbeing, and the correlation between that and the bottom line.
Measuring employee mental health will enable you to:
- identify issues
- see who is most affected by them (a particular demographic or job role, for example)
- identify “hot spots” where whole teams seem to be struggling
- identify teams that have better mental health than average and learn from them
- demonstrate the human, reputational and financial costs of mental health issues
- create a business case to inform and challenge the board and/or C-suite
- create an informed health and wellbeing strategy
- identify the key stakeholders
- target mental health interventions to the areas most in need of improvement
- establish baselines that can then be used to measure progress.
But how do you put a number on happiness? The most straightforward way to capture meaningful employee mental health data is just to ask. Pulse surveys are the ideal way to do this, as the most useful data is real-time, not once a year.
However, not every company culture has the requisite level of “psychological safety” for employees to give completely transparent and honest feedback. If your company isn’t there yet, you can also use sentiment analysis. This involves monitoring employee engagement on company apps and social media accounts and drawing conclusions on how the workforce is responding to new initiatives, as well as which departments are most and least engaged. However, keep this kind of analysis general; don’t pick on employees for specific communications, or they’ll start to feel Big Brother is watching them.
You can also track hard data like participation in wellness programmes, sickness absence, overtime hours, and employee turnover. Employee engagement is indicative of mental health, and vice versa.
This kind of data can be correlated not only to financial costs but also to the business cost of poor performance by employees who are struggling with mental illness. When you tie your mental health metrics back to business metrics and outcomes, you can prove to the board and C-suite how important it is to prioritise employee wellbeing.