Investing in Mental Health Programs Could Pay Enterprise Dividends

Written By: Bill Howatt 

Bill Howatt says mental health programs have the potential to curb short-term disability claims, reduce drug costs, decrease sick time concerns and lower presenteeism due to mental health.






Does your organization have a strategy to support employees’ mental health? 

If not, it would be in the majority. It’s estimated that only a third of organizations in Canada have a mental health strategy. 

If your answer is yes, the next question is whether your organization is measuring the return on investment (ROI) for mental health programs.

At a recent Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) event on workplace mental health in Toronto I had an opportunity to listen to chief human resources officers and mental health leaders from organizations recognized as leaders in supporting mental health in the workplace. 

The starkest observation I took away is the need for more evidence-based measurement and auditing of mental health programs to ensure they’re generating value and having impact. 

Considering that on any given day an employer can have up to 20 per cent of their workforce being impacted by mental health concerns, the loss in productivity and additional out-of-pocket costs can be significant. Mental health programs have the potential to curb short-term disability claims, reduce drug costs, decrease sick time concerns and lower presenteeism due to mental health. 

A new Deloitte Insights report focused on mental health programs and ROI suggests that investing in a mental health program is good for business. However, organizations must be invested in the long game, as this report suggests it can be three or more years before they may achieve a positive ROI. 

This same report looked at seven organizations that have been actively implementing mental health programs for at least three years. It found a median ROI of $1.62 for every dollar spent per year on mental health programming. Those with three or more years’ data had a median yearly ROI of $2.18. 

— Tips for building a mental health strategy

Building a mental health strategy that will have impact is much more than just offering a bunch of random mental health programs. The first step is to be clear on the specific objectives and success metrics, such as reducing short-term disability claims by a certain percentage. 

Following are examples of programs organizations are using to facilitate their mental health strategies and objectives:

•    Facilitate employee self-awareness — Many employees are not aware that they’re experiencing a mental health concern. Providing employees an opportunity to self-evaluate their workplace experience, overall health and resiliency can help them become aware of their risk profile. This data can also be used to evaluate the impact programs are having on influencing employees’ behaviours.

•    Regularly educate and communicate on mental health — Provide employees with useful information, resources, webinars and team meetings that focus on mental health and illness as well as mental injuries, to provide context and assist in eliminating stigma. Until mental health concerns are viewed by employers and employees the same as physical ailments such as cancer, there’s more work to be done.

•    Peer support — Develop peer support programs that facilitate early intervention and support for a peer struggling with mental health.

•    Respectful workplace training — Train employees and managers on the links between civility and respectful workplaces; don’t assume a policy alone is enough. Many employees don’t have the skills to self-advocate until they get this training. They’re at risk for being victims of bullying or harassment in the workplace, which can result in mental injury.

•    Accommodations — Ensure human resources personnel are trained to effectively facilitate accommodation plans for an employee experiencing mental health challenges in the workplace.

•    Return to work — Institute a program that has three plans for every employee who goes off work: treatment plan, return-to-work plan and an inclusion plan for how other employees will support the person coming back to work to feel welcomed. 

•    Manager training — Provide managers with training such as through duty to inquire on how to support an employee who may be at risk for impairment as well as mental health concerns. 

•    Provide clear pathways for accessing mental health supports — Map out for employees a user-friendly guide for available resources, including employee and family assistance and paramedical psychological services, local mental health support organizations such as Canadian Mental Health Association, cognitive behavioural therapy online tools, crisis and suicide lines, and coaching tips to access addiction treatment, psychiatric and professional counselling and psychological services. 

•    Provide access to resiliency training — Provide employees an opportunity to develop their coping skills and resiliency to promote mental fitness and mental health. 

•    Regularly evaluate mental health programs’ impact — This includes auditing and measuring impact, utilization, and return on investment to objectively determine whether programs are doing what they’re supposed to do.

For more information on how Service Hospitality can help you, please visit our Psychological Health and Safety at Work page. 

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