Employers with an eye on the bottom line might want to expand their focus to include the mental state of their staff.
The two are closely linked, say workplace consultants Dana Couillard and Derrick Peterson.
The two men described on Wednesday how depression and other mental disorders take a nearly 14 per cent bite out of Canadian companies’ profits, and erode productivity nationwide by approximately $53 billion a year. Yet most businesses aren’t aware of these losses.
“It’s like an iceberg,” said Couillard. “The bulk of it is hidden below the surface; we simply don’t see the impact.”
Couillard, who operates Perception Ridge Institute in Lethbridge, and Peterson, who is with employee benefit consulting firm Silverberg Group in Red Deer, shared their insights during a luncheon presentation organized by the Central Alberta Rural Manufacturers Association. They detailed the many direct and indirect costs that result from having a psychologically unsafe workplace.
These include high turnover and the associated costs of finding and training replacements, higher absenteeism and lower productivity from employees who are at work, reduced worker satisfaction and commitment to their jobs, more accidents, and greater health insurance and long-term disability claims.
“As a result, overall you’ve got the squeeze that most businesses don’t want: productivity going down and costs going up,” said Couillard. “That contributes to a red bottom line, not a black bottom line.”
He and Peterson pointed out that mental illness can also contribute to range of physical ailments: substance abuse, heart problems, back pain, infections, injuries and even some cancers.
“In 2007, for Canada, mental health was the leading cause of STDs (short-term disabilities) and LTDs (long-term disabilities),” said Couillard. “And by 2020, this gap is expected to increase.”
Materials distributed by the two men suggested that there are two components to a psychologically safe workplace: the prevention of abusive treatment of staff by supervisors and co-workers, and proper management of staff with mental disorders. However, many organizations choose instead to ignore the problem.
“If you do nothing, it doesn’t go away,” said Couillard.
In fact, he added, companies that lack policies and procedures to create a psychologically safe workplace face a growing risk of legal action and government regulations that will force them to act.
“There’s a stick that’s coming, and it’s getting bigger and bigger.”
He said the Mental Health Commission of Canada is developing standards for what a psychologically healthy workplace should look like. Legislation like the Occupational Health and Safety Act is likely to follow.
Couillard and Peterson presented stats indicating that 12 per cent of workers have a mental illness, and that as many as one in five working Canadians experience a stress-related illness each year.
Couillard, who is a former school teacher and deputy superintendent, said he was diagnosed with depression nearly two decades ago.
“I always assumed it was a sign of stress,” he said of his symptoms.