Businessolver Blog

The Billion Dollar Productivity Problem – What it is and How to Fix it.

The Billion Dollar Productivity Problem – What it is and How to Fix it.
Posted on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 by Rae Shanahan

Sometimes it seems like our world is becoming unavoidably faster — we’re busier, we’re always connected and we’re finding there is less separation between our personal and working lives.


While this can bring happiness and fulfillment over a job well done, it can also contribute to stress, anxiety and concerns about balancing the pressures of work and personal life.

Your employees are suffering, sometimes in silence.

Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that American workers are experiencing issues with mental well-being in significant numbers. An estimated 42 million people are dealing with some form of anxiety, and over 16 million adults are affected by depression. Also notable is how widespread these issues are among our increasingly diverse workforce. The 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study examines perceptions of empathy at work from employees, HR professionals, and CEOs across a range of demographics and industries. We surveyed people of all ages and we found that employees across age groups experienced mental health issues in the past year: 58% of Millennials, 49% of Gen Xers, and 33% of Baby Boomers.

But because of the negative lasting social stigma of mental health, many employees don’t speak up when or if they need help. It’s disturbing to note that 80% of employees, HR professionals and CEOs all say that companies view someone with a mental health issue as a burden. On the other hand, 68% of employees believe that reaching out for help would negatively impact their job security.

2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study Sweeping mental health under the proverbial rug isn’t solving any issues. In fact, it’s exacerbating many current workplace problems like high turnover, presenteeism, absenteeism and low engagement.  

Poor mental health is costing you in real dollars – billions.

The impact of mental health issues at work is clearly significant to employees who fear losing their job over disclosing this type of health concern. But these issues matter to employers as well. Mental health issues carry direct costs for organizations in terms of medical expenses and prescription drug spend, which can translate into serious indirect costs in absenteeism and lower productivity.

For example, prescription costs are estimated to be about 20% of employer medical costs. And the number of Americans taking antidepressants has been rising. Additionally, both absenteeism and presenteeism, not being fully engaged or productive at work because of health issues, are common effects of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

It is estimated that depression conditions cost U.S. employers a total of $210.5 billion per year, with 48% to 50% of that amount attributed to indirect costs of lost productivity in the workplace. Presenteeism is estimated to cost over $78 billion a year, and when associated with depression, it results in 32 lost workdays per employee.

Improving mental health for employees leads to better business outcomes.

Implementing programs and benefits that support mental health plays a critical role in fostering an empathetic workplace. Support for employees’ total well-being, and the empathetic environment this engenders, has tangible benefits for organizations that make this approach part of their culture. Here are some of the ways implementing specific benefits and programs that address mental health can improve business outcomes:

  1. Reducing absenteeism. Missing work stems from a variety of reasons, including stress, anxiety, depression, struggles to find child or eldercare and burnout. By implementing programs that support mental well-being and address employee workload can reduce absenteeism from these numerous causes.
  2. Improving employee engagement. Presenteeism, or being at work but not being fully productive, is a significant cost to employers. Addressing mental well-being helps employees’ total health, and hence their ability to be fully engaged when they’re at work.
  3. Tackling turnover. A holistic approach to employee well-being and mental health doesn’t just help with missed workdays and lost productivity — it fosters the empathetic environment that reduces turnover across an organization.

Want to learn more about how you can start implementing mental health programs? We’ve gone in-depth in our white paper that outlines potential solutions to help improve employee overall well-being. It also includes many more stats and facts about the harms of mental health that you can use to support building more benefits options. Check it out below.