Mental Health: An Opportunity too Big for Your Company to Ignore

Jim Ludema Care for people, Leadership

BrainOur center’s research into values-driven company cultures often leaves us pondering the impact of leadership style and structures, the organizational climate, and the rituals, traditions and language inherent within these cultures. How do these factors influence productivity? Profit? Employee retention? Customer loyalty?

In our research, we’ve found another important aspect of organizational culture that has a direct impact on measures of success: a company’s orientation toward mental health. The mental health of your workforce may represent an uncounted expense – or a missed opportunity – of significant proportions.

For executives, the financial payoff of good mental health can be significant. A study by PwC’s Australia division indicates that for each $1 invested in positive mental health, a company can reap $2.30 in benefits.

Research into the practice of mindfulness, a contributor to mental health, is growing with results indicating strong mindfulness has a significant impact on employee happiness, helpfulness, productivity, cognition, focus, decision-making, and safety.

Ignoring mental well-being in the workplace can be costly, as well. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 20 percent of the general American workforce may be experiencing a mental illness. (Mental illness refers to a medically diagnosable category that includes depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, among other illnesses.) The situation could be mild or severe, but the impact is significant, both in the personal lives of your team members and in the profitability of your company. In fact, estimates say mental illness costs the American workforce more than $63 billion each year in lost productivity.

Executives building values-driven companies cannot afford to ignore mental health. For that reason, throughout the month of September, our website will feature articles about and for leaders who are actively creating positive environments for the mental health of their teams.

In the coming weeks we’ll introduce you to a CEO, Indigo Triplett, who started a nonprofit to provide life coaching to people diagnosed with a mental illness, after receiving her own diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. (Triplett shares her experiences in her book, Dueling Dragons: A Bipolar Journey from the Darkness into the Light; which will also be excerpted on our blog.) We’ll help you increase your own mindfulness through a short exercise, offered by Debbie Vyskocil of Optimal Edge Performance. And therapist Nancy Sayer, a student in our executive doctoral program, will help us explore emotional well-being as a factor all values-driven leaders should use as they guide their teams.

Our series does not offer thorough coverage of the topic, and so we want to share a few additional resources for executives who want to make mental health an active component of their daily leadership. Some of the best resources available have been created by the National Alliance for Mental Illness’s Massachusetts chapter, who remind us that organizational leaders are “in many ways first responders to mental illness in the workplace.” Awareness and training on your part can help others reach recovery and uninterrupted productivity.

We encourage you to visit the NAMI Mass website to learn more about their CEOs Against Stigma campaign. We also recommend the American Psychological Association’s resources on creating a psychologically healthy workplace.

For executives, creating an emotionally healthy workplace is an important responsibility that shows care for your team members. It’s also strategic: profitability and productivity are just two of the benefits of a workplace that is focused on the psychological well-being of its people. Our hope is this series will launch new conversations and spark new ideas within your company.

Read more in our series on mental health & the workplace:

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Jim Ludema, Ph.D., is the director of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership and a Professor of Global Leadership.

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