Time to get to work on measuring absenteeism due to mental health

While many Canadian organizations continue to search for solutions to rising health-care costs, most are falling short. That’s why they must investigate any opportunity to find substantial savings and then take action.

One health-related cost that hasn’t gained much attention is absenteeism. As issue often linked to mental-health issues, it’s costing Canadian organizations billions of dollars in payroll costs, talent management expenses and lost productivity.

Read: Majority of Canadians suffering from a mental-health issue, sleeping disorder: survey

Canadian companies lose an estimated $16.6 billion in productivity per year due to absenteeism resulting from mental-health issues, according to a 2013 report by the Conference Board of Canada. It’s a trend many expect to increase in severity as more employees are reporting higher levels of stress and other mental-health concerns. In fact, one in four workers has left a job at some point due to work-related stress, according to a 2017 Monster Canada study.

But because absenteeism and disability are difficult to quantify, organizations often don’t measure or account for their destructiveness.

Research shows employees expect their employers to provide a growing list of services for physical, mental and financial well-being. Mercer’s 2017 global talent trends survey found 49 per cent of Canadian employees want more focus on health and wellness. It also found 55 per cent want more flexible working options, while the average employee in Canada reported worrying about money, on average, 13 work hours per month.

Read: Employees want flex work but fear adverse impact on careers, study finds

With the rising cost of health benefits, the situation could become unsustainable, even if health and wellness programs are a top employer focus. That’s why organizations must build an overarching wellness program that tackles all variables proven to impact employee health, wealth and productivity. Just like total rewards, employers should understand, communicate and support a complete view of the tools and services they have in place to enable a healthy and productive workplace.

Here’s where to start:

1. Data: Build a data-gathering capability to successfully diagnose the problem. Be sure to look at more than past claims data.

2. Attendance support: Improve attendance, accommodation, return-to-work and impairment management by developing new policies that work for today’s workforce.

3. Disability: Employers should be revisiting their goals and comparing them to their current state. Next, they can redesign their program to ensure alignment and accountability; improve their relationship with providers; and leverage early mental-health intervention and advancements in health care, including pharmacogenetic and other specialty providers.

4. Health and wellness: Create a whole program (going beyond random parts) that aligns with the company’s culture and then develop a multi-year approach with measurable results.

5. Measure and manage: Leverage data analytics and diagnostic tools to measure success and manage employees’ health.

Read: How to use analytics to improve your benefits plan

Companies that take action see significant results not only through reduced lost time but also improved safety, a more engaged workforce and greater employee reliability and productivity. Those companies that know how much they’re losing out to absenteeism caused by mental-health issues are a step ahead of most organizations. For those that don’t know, it’s time to get to work.

Imagine the positive impact on absenteeism and disability if employees were able to get the help they needed from the beginning.