It feels like 2020 has already seen a decade’s worth of change. I write this in June—in the middle of both a global pandemic and urgent cries for social justice from around the world.

Beneath the crises of the coronavirus and structural racism lies a third: the crisis of our eroding mental health. Recent research from Accenture found that 92 percent of workers in the UK, for example, have been touched by mental health challenges.

Yet, accessing care is impossible for some and difficult for many. Even mentioning our mental wellbeing at work can feel like a risk.

How can business leaders manage yet another crisis while managing their back-to-work strategies?

On the latest episode of Human, I’m joined by Barbara Harvey to discuss the state of mental health in the workplace and how organizations can seize this moment to change and create a better “new normal.”

Barbara is a Managing Director at Accenture Research, where she leads a global research team of 300 experts examining workplace equality. She’s also the co-founder and executive sponsor of our award-winning mental health program.

Here are some highlights from our conversation. You can hear our full conversation here.

69% of UK workers have experienced a mental health challenge

77% among young workers

84% among LGBTQ+ colleagues

Barbara’s team then asked workers if a friend or family had experienced a mental health challenge and 88 percent said “yes.”

Combined, these numbers show that 92 percent of workers have been touched by mental health challenges in one way or another.

“That’s nine in 10, not the one in four we often read about,” says Barbara. “It’s all of us. And that was before COVID-19.”

Like many of us, I’ve also dealt with mental health challenges at work. But I was still shocked to hear Barbara relate this data—and saddened to learn that younger workers and LGBTQ+ workers are both particularly at risk.

“One aspect that really worries me is people’s experience with suicide,” says Barbara. “We found that 41 percent of workers have considered suicide or had suicidal thoughts and feelings. It’s 65 percent among our LGBTQ+ colleagues. This is a quite an extraordinary figure.

“If our mental health goes wrong, it can lead you a place nobody wants to go. It’s important that we talk about mental health.”

Myths persist

The idea that mental health challenges only touch a minority of the workforce is not the only stubbornly persistent myth in this area.

There’s also the idea that we’re more open about mental health now.

“One of the myths is that it’s easier to talk about it,” Barbara says. “Gen Z is pretty comfortable opening up about it. This is outside work.

Six out of 10 workers don’t say anything about mental health at work.

Barbara Harvey, Accenture

A hidden crisis with a high cost to the employer

The cost of our reticence to speak about our mental health is high however you measure it. Barbara mentioned an economic assessment in the UK that found that poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion each year. The annual cost to the UK economy is between £74 billion and £99 billion.

Globally, the cost of not improving the way we treat mental health at work will cost us $16 trillion by 2030.

But we can think about this in more positive terms. Barbara’s research has found that boosting mental health in the workforce has a huge positive impact on business performance.

For example, her team’s work shows that people in workplaces they describe as supportive of their mental health and overall wellbeing are far more likely to innovate.

“In those supportive environments, we see that individuals are six times more likely to have an innovation mind set,” she says. “When you create environments where people feel good, where they belong, you really create an environment which is brilliant for people and for business.”

Five things leaders can do now to improve mental health at work

So what can leaders do to help workers—and themselves—foster better mental health? In our conversation Barbara unpacked five principles:

  1. Open, human and warm leadership,
  2. Empowerment,
  3. Knowledge,
  4. Practical support,
  5. Gratitude.

To hear Barbara explain each of these—and for many other valuable insights about our mental health at work—tune in to the latest episode of Human here:

As always, I’d be delighted to hear your feedback on this episode and suggestions for future episodes.

I can be reached here—or you can leave your feedback on the podcasting platform.

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