In considering a “Business Case” for creating a psychologically safe and healthy workplace, we need to move beyond the idea that companies have a moral responsibility to send workers home from work as healthy as they were when they arrived.
During my learning for this post I increased my knowledge about psychological illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, and how they are increasingly more prevalent in our workplaces. As EHSQ Community member Ann Morgan discussed in one of our EHSQ Intelex Community webinars on Psychological Safety there is a variety of costs associated with poor psychological health, and businesses are becoming wiser about them.
I learned through NAMI’s research that, every year, 1 in 25 adults in the U.S will experience a mental illness that “substantially interfere[s] or limits one or more major life activities”, such as their work. CAMH research found 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness, such as depression, within their lifetime. Most worryingly, one half (49%) of Canadians who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety never sought help.
Employers should care because ignoring mental illness is costly for your business. Review the amount your company is paying out for direct costs such as healthcare services, pharmaceuticals, and short and long term disability provisions. Workers with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, cancer, or low back pain, are more likely to be suffer a mental illness and be absent from work, annually costing employers anywhere “from $10,000 for small organizations to over $3 million for large organizations”.
NAMI found the cost of depression for a business is approximately $44 billion annually and that there are about 200 million days of missed work. In contrast the treatment costs ($12.5 billion) are considerably less. These findings show there is a large economic cost for businesses and a solid financial reason to deploy or maintain psychologically safe work environments.
As EHSQ Professionals, our focus is ensuring our organizations create a safe and healthy workplace for our business’ employees. It is our responsibility to help our organizations uphold their values and improve their bottom lines; if mental health programs can help organizations do this, then advocating for the implementation or expansion of these programs becomes our responsibility as well.
Many members in our EHS ASP Study Group voiced how they would like more support when it comes to addressing workplace psychological safety with their teams and creating a healthier workplace culture. This support will soon be within the province of Ontario’s OHS Act, as Bill 132 received Royal Assent in March and is being released in September. These amendments will increase workers’ rights in relation to reporting psychological harassment directly to the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
In any business, there are three core strategic drivers that a senior executive team considers in decision-making: financial cost, organizational profile, and legal risks. These can all be applied to our discussion about creating a psychologically safe and healthy workplace.
Financial Costs: Most employees understand the monetary cost of an unhealthy workplace. NAMI and CAMH research shows that depressed workers, in addition to being more likely to miss work, are less productive and less focused while at work. Inattentive workers are more likely to get hurt or unintentionally hurt colleagues, which results in higher insurance premiums, medical/rehab costs, and increased work stoppages. In addition to the costs of absenteeism discussed above, NAMI also found: “employee health conditions [such as] headache/pain, cold, flu, depression, fatigue, digestive problems and arthritis cost employers more than $180 billion annually in lost productivity.”
If an incident or accident occurs then the likelihood increases the company will have to pay out legal fines, OSHA fines, Ministry fines, equipment replacement costs, and/or facility damages.
Organizational Profile: More organizations are striving to be known as an “employer of choice”. By ensuring they provide resources, programs, and provisions that support a safe and healthy workspace, employers increase their likelihood of becoming one of the companies that achieve this public recognition and success. These efforts have the potential to result in added shareholder value and increased employee and customer loyalty.
Legal Risks: Stronger legislation and regulations in OHS and workplace fairness are increasing every company’s legal responsibility to demonstrate diligence with respect to employee, customer, and stakeholder safety. Over the past year, owners and officers have not only been fined, but chronic offenders are being charged with jail sentences for not implementing government regulations to protect the health and safety of their employees and the surrounding community.
A healthy work environment and strong safety performance is profitable for a company in many ways. If you’d like to discuss this topic in greater detail, join myself and over 16,500 other environmental, health and safety, and quality professionals on the Intelex Community.