Work Absenteeism Less in Countries Where Managers Support Employees’ Mental Health
Better mental health support from managers may raise workplace productivity and lower absenteeism, according to a new study conducted across 15 countries.
Mental health stigma remains rampant in workplaces, in India and abroad, and employees are fearful of discussing their struggles. At the same time, workplaces are often a top cause of mental unwellness around the world; in India, in 2016, a survey of 200,000 employees from 30 different Indian firms found nearly half reported poor mental health as the result of extreme work stress. More broadly, one in every 10 Indians suffers from depression.
While this clearly calls for a re-examination of work culture, the study explored what role managers play in, well, managing a company’s mental health. Researchers surveyed more than 16,000 employees and their managers across 15 countries of different economies and cultures – Brazil, Mexico, the USA, Canada, South Africa, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Denmark, Turkey, China, Japan and South Korea. The survey collected employees’ personal details including age, gender, education and size of employing company. Employees were asked whether they had ever been diagnosed with depression, and how many depression-related days they took off work. Managers, on the other hand, were asked whether they offer support to employees with depression.
The study wasn’t designed to establish cause-and-effect, but some interesting correlations emerged from the responses. On an average, managers from Asian countries, especially South Korea and Japan, were more likely to avoid depressed employees, than bring up the topic for discussion or offer help. Managers in Denmark, Canada and Great Britain were most likely to discuss mental health with a depressed employee; managers in South Africa and Mexico were most likely to offer help.
Countries whose managers tended to avoid depressed employees also had higher rates of absenteeism related to depression; countries whose managers were more likely to actively offer support to employees with mental health problems had higher rates of work attendance — and productivity.
The findings “suggest that manager reactions to employees with depression can reflect broad cultural and organisational features that directly relate to employee productivity,” say the researchers. “The business case for intervention through better managerial response is exemplified by the substantial costs associated with mental health problems and evidence from a number of studies that mental health can improve through workplace programmes, with economic benefits to employers.”