The Trillion-Dollar Taboo: Why It’s Time To Stop Ignoring Mental Health at Work

Experts in workplace psychology overwhelmingly agree that burnout is a growing public health crisis. An excerpt from a long report: When the FT set out to investigate this issue, we asked readers to describe how their employers handle mental health issues, including stress, burnout, anxiety and depression. More than 450 people responded from 43 countries. Although they were a self-selecting group, their responses were significant: the majority felt unsupported, alienated or discriminated against on the basis of their mental health. Two-thirds believed their work had a somewhat to extremely negative effect on their health, and 44 per cent said they did not think mental health was taken seriously by their organisation. Half said they either didn’t know where at work to go, or had nowhere to go if they needed support.

Even as many companies strengthen their policies to close the gender pay gap and end sexual harassment, mental wellbeing often remains an afterthought. “This is not about buying Fitbits for employees and teaching them deep breathing so we can pile on more work,” says Donna Hardaker, a workplace mental health specialist at Sutter Health, a not-for-profit healthcare network. “You must address the micro and the macro. There is a deeply entrenched cultural idea that workplaces are fine; it’s the employees who are the problem. But employers have a social responsibility to not be harming the people who are working within their walls.”

A failure to support employees is also costing companies a fortune: an estimated 615 million people suffer from depression and anxiety and, according to a recent World Health Organisation study, this costs an estimated $1tn in lost productivity every year. Companies that do not have systems in place to support the wellbeing of their employees have higher turnover, lower productivity and higher healthcare costs, according to the American Psychological Association. They also face significant legal risks.

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