Collaborating for the benefit of employee mental health

Sir Ian Cheshire

Chair, The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health

Before the Covid 19 pandemic hit, mental health was already an issue on the rise around the world, with an estimated 13% of the global population, just short of 1 billion people suffering from some kind of mental illness. In South Africa, according to statistics released by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), as many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety or depression.

The pandemic experience has put additional pressure on the mental health of millions of people. This pressure has been felt in workplaces across the world in numerous ways, from the need to support employees with what they are dealing with outside of work to managing new and different ways of working.

We knew before the pandemic the cost of mental health to our economies, as well as communities and individuals. In South Africa lost workplace productivity as a result of depression costs the equivalent of 5.7% of GDP every year and across the world 12 billion productive days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety alone. This is costing the world economy approximately US$2.5 trillion per year in reduced economic productivity and direct cost of care. Even before the pandemic this productivity cost was projected to rise to US$6 trillion by 2030, alongside increased social costs.

While research shows that companies are increasingly putting measures in place to prevent stigma and support staff with their mental health, there are still major disparities within and between nations. In Deloitte’s Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z survey more than six in 10 of those surveyed said their employers had policies in place—including flexible working hours and leave/sick leave policies—to help support them through the pandemic and with their mental health. However, employees in countries like South Africa, Chile and China were more likely, than the global average employee, to say that they struggle to talk to their employers about their mental health.

The impact of Covid 19 on the workplace challenged the old ways of doing things in many ways, with many employers having to adapt to ensure a support network and approach for people not physically present at work or putting themselves at risk to come to work. Employers have also had to consider other pressures on employees, from physical health to caring responsibilities.

This does seem to have triggered a shift in thinking, as if many employers have been able to step back from the day-to-day and see their employees as individual people, with their own unique pressures, responsibilities and potential. Businesses have begun to see that by supporting employees with their mental health and creating a healthy workforce not only makes business sense for them but also for society as a whole.

Happy employees are more productive, engaged, less likely to be absent or less likely to leave the companies they work at. And increasingly employees themselves want to work for companies that value and will support their wellbeing. However, there remains significant stigma that prevents employees from starting a conversation about their mental health or a lack of support there for them when they do.

This is where the Global Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health comes in. The Collaboration was founded by businesses committed to advocating for and accelerating positive change for mental health in workplace across the world. The eight founding partners of BHP, BP, Clifford Chance, Deloitte, HSBC, Salesforce, Unilever and WPP have all recognised mental health to be a priority within their companies and knowing not one business has all the answers have come together to share insights and good practice.

The foundation of the Global Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health is a pledge that all of the Founding Partners have signed up to and is open to any business of any size anywhere in the world. So far over 80 businesses based in a range of countries and sectors, have pledged to prioritise mental health in their workplace through a series of simple, achievable steps.

The unique collaboration will continue to support these companies by sharing tools and tips on how to prioritise mental health in the workplace, whilst also offering insight on good practices gathered from across the globe. As a neutral platform the collaboration is able to work with world leading health experts and mental health campaigners gathering much needed evidence and support within the area of mental health. This gathering of like-minded organisations will help to build a clear roadmap for change that will benefit and guide a business, wherever they are on their journey.

In many parts of the world the Covid 19 pandemic has changed the way we work forever. It has also highlighted the need for mental health to be considered alongside physical wellbeing and to be an equal priority for employers.

By 2030 WHO expect depression to be the leading cause of disease burden globally. Pioneering business leaders already understand that the workplace is not immune from the impact of this startling statistic, and that action on workplace mental health is needed now to ensure their employees, and in turn, their business, thrives.