Cover Story

The cost of mental illness in the workplace

Dr Leanne Mandim | Life Healthcare 

For many, wellness in the workplace has moved from a nice to have to a must have.

“The increasing demands of today’s fast-paced business environment means employees need more personal health, wellness and lifestyle support than ever before. It’s well documented that happy, healthy employees are more efficient and more productive,” says Dr Leanne Mandim, Head: Employee Health and Wellness Solutions for Life Employee Health Solutions.

While the physical health of employees is always a key focus of wellness programmes, Mandim believes that an integrated programme which also highlights mental health is key.

“The mental health and wellbeing of employees in the organisation is critical for maintaining sustainable levels of employee engagement, resilience in the face of organizational change, motivation, and innovation. Through an integrated employee wellness approach employers can benefit through the positive impact on productivity and business performance,” she says.

A recent World Health Organization study has shown that depression and anxiety account for the most frequent occurrences in occupational disability, according to the study, depression and/or anxiety is expected to account for 15% of the global disease burden by 20201. It is estimated that between 3% – 10% of GDP is lost annually as a result of stress related sick leave2.

“A well-managed comprehensive and holistic wellness programme can have definite benefits in positively managing risks surrounding depression and anxiety,” says Mandim.

A growing body of evidence suggests that employers can reduce costs by investing in the health and well-being of their employees. This includes both the direct costs of providing healthcare and indirect costs, such as absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Many employers have recognised the wider potential benefits of investing in wellness and have used it to promote the achievement of other important company objectives. Investing in wellness can lead to:

Improving employee engagement and building individual resilience.

Strengthening the employer value proposition to attract and retain the best talent.

Reducing safety risk through behavioural change solutions.

Enhancing the value and sustainability of the organization’s most critical resource – people – and demonstrating this to stakeholders.

Achieving the organization’s wider purpose and improving the lives of people.

Building the organization’s reputation and brand.

As productivity remains a core concern for most organizations, the demand for sustainable employee wellness initiatives has shifted from a purely Human Resource  driven strategy to a business imperative. With South Africa’s increasing disease burden, companies are starting to feel the pressure to play a more active role in employee wellness.


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