The Deloitte Global 2020 Millennial Survey of more than 18 000 millennials and Gen Zs across 43 countries revealed that 48% of Gen Zs and 44% of millennials felt anxious or stressed all or most of the time, with a higher proportion among women and young parents.

By Alison Palmer, head of HR at Dariel

That means that almost 50% of an organisation’s staff aged from their early 20s to early 40s have high levels of anxiety or stress. This can only have a negative impact on the employee, their family, and their ability to perform well in their chosen field.

Although more people have admitted to struggling with mental health in 2022, this doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer people suffered from mental health issues in 2021 and prior. I fear that many people may have suffered in silence due to the isolation we endured in 2020 and 2021. However, it is promising that we are starting to see a greater awareness of mental health and its importance.

The costs of mental health disorders

In 2021, I attended the “Managing Mental Health and Wellness at Work” course at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). we discussed how employees’ mental health disorders affect both the individual and their organisations.

These negative impacts can be broken down into direct costs, indirect costs and intangible costs. For the individual, the direct costs come in the form of healthcare and medication expenses; for the organisation, it’s the direct cost of the employee’s sick leave or time off work. Indirect costs for the individual include the time and energy consumed in managing the disorder; while the employer is affected by the loss of productivity through presenteeism.

The employee’s suffering is an intangible cost; as a result, the employer’s business can experience low team morale, poor customer service, or negative testimony.

Taking these direct, indirect, and intangible costs into consideration, every employer’s top priority must be to create awareness of the importance of mental health to remove negative connotations and taboos, as well as the barriers to disclosure by employees.

Current challenges to the success of mental health initiatives

While mental health should be prioritised by all organisations, there are many inhibitors to the success of mental health initiatives, ranging from a lack of employee awareness to lack of budget (although I believe that big budgets are not essential, as many programmes can be implemented with little to no cost).

Initiatives also fail because organisations see them as “the thing to do” at a particular time (such as mental health month in October) instead of creating a sustainable awareness and disclosure campaign.

But the biggest challenge to the success of mental wellness initiatives is limited executive and upper management support. Managers need to champion the importance of mental health by creating awareness, and fostering an environment that encourages disclosure and offers assistance.

How to draw awareness to mental health in the workplace

Ultimately, it is essential to create a work environment that promotes, supports and rewards healthy behaviour, irrespective of organisational size and budget constraints. This is contingent on executive and upper management support of mental health awareness initiatives, which can take the form of:

* Awareness campaigns.

* Outreach programmes.

* Employee assistance programmes.

* Flexible/hybrid working.

As businesses implement initiatives like those listed here, it’s important to keep in mind the difference between what it takes to launch a short-term initiative and to sustain long-term change. To gauge the effectiveness of mental wellness programmes, organisations need to:

* Assess whether employees are achieving their KPIs.

* Analyse work absence and exit interviews.

* Use survey data represented as a “health” score – if consistently measured, this will indicate improvement (or not) over time.

If there’s one silver lining from the uncertainty of the last two years, it’s that more and more employers are acknowledging that mental wellness is vital for organisations to thrive, which helps ensure that mental health programmes become more structured and entrenched. It’s my hope that this will facilitate the removal of the stigma and provide much-needed support for sufferers.

Make no mistake, if an organisation is not introducing measures to assist its people in improving and maintaining good mental health, both the employee and the organisation will suffer.