Present productivity replaces perfect presenteeism as the people-focused goal in the future workplace.

The impact of an indulgent global culture that celebrates the ‘always-on’ workaholic is far-reaching. People's mental health and eradicated positive workplace morale are some of the effects of disregarding this type of exploitation.  Mental health issues and workplace wellbeing can no longer be ignored or relegated to nice-to-have status.

For the pragmatists and hard-core capitalists among us, let's scratch the surface with a few statistics. 

  1. Mental disorders will cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030, currently estimated around 12 billion working days are lost annually, due to mental illness.1
  2. 13 percent of all sickness absence days are directly attributed to mental health conditions, like anxiety, stress, and depression.2
  3. In the United States, depression is the leading cause of absence from work.3
  4. 35-45 percent of workplace absenteeism in developed countries is attributable to this set of health concerns.4

Ignore these statistics at your peril. The trend promises to continue its rise in the next generation of workers, with hyper-connected millennials showing signs that they may be prone to mental health hiccups.

The blend of absenteeism, the natural dip in productivity, together with a culture of presenteeism (employees coming into the office when they are sick) further effects levels of productivity.

If mental health is such a big problem, strategically and economically – why aren’t we talking about it much, much more? Could it be that the stigma surrounding mental health problems create discrimination? Intolerant structures are doing nothing to enable the open discourse needed to effect relevant improvements.

Countries like Sweden and New Zealand have already trialled four-day working weeks with incredible results: workers were proven to be happier, healthier, better motivated, and more productive. However, the entrenchment of the five-day working week, first legally protected in the 1940s in the United States and the mid-1990s in China, runs deep, so a global shift here is unexpected anytime soon.

What to do? Employers need to develop a wellbeing and mental health strategy focused on promoting openness around the subject and on offering support to people affected by mental illness.

It all starts with employers having an honest look at themselves, in order to understand their people, culture and working environment. Next, it requires a proactive approach, highlighting how the company recognises the impact of mental health in the workplace and creates a culture promoting positive mental wellbeing.

Employee education programs, inclusion in workplace activities and awareness days and mental health workshops are the cornerstone of many strategies currently being rolled out, in companies big and small.

No strategy is complete without a fair and reasonable employee rehabilitation guideline that treats the aftermath of an employee’s mental illness in the same way it treats the effects of physical illness, with phased returns and adjustments of duty.

In a world that doesn’t want to talk about mental illness, companies that do are set to score big by standing out as preferred employers and by leveraging off of higher productivity rates.

Imagine the potential for profit optimisation and maximisation if employers take up the responsibility upon them to address these revenue inhibitors.

So, here’s the bottom line: are you ready to talk about mental illness?


1. Lancet Commission Report

2. UK Mental Health Organisation

3. National Institute of Mental Health.

4. The World Health Organisation