The message is clear. To create a highly successful work environment, companies need to recognize the interplay between physical and emotional health issues.

“We know to truly impact an individual’s well-being, we need to properly attend to all aspects of their health,” explains Colleen Fairbanks, Ph.D., Director of Behavioral Health at Interactive Health. “Enhancing a person’s emotional and physical health reduces health care costs and improves employee productivity. It not only makes good business sense, but good human sense, to incorporate emotional health into your workplace.

“Providing a program that focuses on both physical and emotional health reduces the stigma and puts them both on an even playing field. By letting individuals know you understand the importance of emotional health, you increase awareness and encourage employees to get the help they need.”

OVER THE EDGE: Stress and emotional issues easily get lost in work loads and extra coffees and we may take extra sick days to find them. Like physical health, employers should consider their employees' mental health.

Do the math

“One in five adults will experience some type of emotional health issue in any given year,” says Dr. Fairbanks. “It happens all around us. Stress, depression, or anxiety may lead employees to take more sick days or simply muddle through the workday without performing at top capacity.”

Fairbanks says emotional health accounts for $135 billion spent on health care every year. Depression itself, on average, results in $17-44 billion a year in lost productivity.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), roughly 15 million American adults live with major depression. Approximately 42 million adults struggle with anxiety disorders that include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias.

Have a plan

“There's a lot of buzz in the wellness industry right now around emotional health, and for good reason,”  Dr. Fairbanks points out. “Buzz, however, does not mean interventions and resources are being applied as a result of rigorous research and evaluation. It's very easy to haphazardly pull together stress management type resources and label it as emotional health.”

“‘It not only makes good business sense, but good human sense, to incorporate emotional health into your workplace.’”

“Interactive Health has assessed the emotional health of its members for over 10 years. We analyzed our book of business data and uncovered statistically significant trends related to emotional health risk as it correlates to age, gender and presence of particular physical health conditions. Our data was further confirmed via empirically validated scientific literature. Born out of this meaningful measurement, we strategically designed impactful interventions to reduce our members’ physical and emotional health risks.” 

To help measure what physical and emotional health issues are affecting your workforce, says Dr. Fairbanks, “Uncover what resources are already available, find ways to promote and build awareness among your employees. Use an employee wellness program that focuses on both emotional health and physical health.”

It takes two

David Ballard, Psy.D., director of the American Psychological Association's Center for Organizational Excellence, remarks, “Forward-thinking employers are taking steps to create a positive work environment where employees can thrive. In turn, employees are more engaged and committed to the organization’s success. This shared responsibility for creating a psychologically healthy workplace promotes an organizational culture that values well-being and performance, and delivers results for employees and the organization alike.”

Dr. Ballard says success depends on how well an organization tailors its programs and policies to meet its employees' needs. The types of practices generally fall into categories that include employee involvement, health and safety, employee growth and development, work-life balance and employee recognition. It's a good idea to start with an assessment of employee needs. Then, evidence-based practices can be implemented, evaluated and refined to obtain the best outcomes possible.  

Keeping quiet

Ballard cautions that while stigma related to mental health issues has declined, it lingers.

“Work is one place where people are still concerned about potential repercussions, such as being passed over for promotions, treated unfairly, seen as less competent or becoming the target of bullying, social exclusion or gossip. Since mental health problems aren’t necessarily visible to others, people often go to great lengths to keep them concealed from their co-workers. This can add to their stress, making the challenges they face even more difficult and preventing them from getting the support they need.”