Positive ROI on workplace mental health initiatives ‘well within reach’

Investments are already having a positive impact on employees and the bottom line.

Through its “Let’s Talk” initiative, Bell has come to be recognized as a corporate leader on mental health awareness and prevention, even though it has been accused of failing to protect the mental health of its own employees. However, Bell has invested in workplace mental health initiatives at the company for as long as “Bell Let’s Talk” has been around. And by tracking more than 90 KPIs – such as short- and long-term disability claims, usage of mental health benefits and programs, and employee engagement – the organization has gained a clearer view into the effectiveness of those mental health-related programs.

Since 2010, use of its Employee and Family Assistance Program has grown 190% to reach 36% (double the industry average); short-term disability claims are down 20%; and short-term disability relapse and recurrence rates have dropped by more than 50%, according to a Deloitte report called “The ROI in workplace mental health programs.”

The benefits have not only been felt by employees themselves: in 2018, Bell earned $4.10 for every dollar invested in the mental health of its workers, according to Deloitte’s analysis. That’s good news for execs who worry about needing to justify expenses when employee wellness hangs in the balance.

“With more and more companies recognizing that investing in workplace mental health was the right thing to do, it was an important time to examine and understand whether it made good business sense as well,” says Sarah Chapman, Deloitte Canada’s director of sustainability and social impact, and one of the authors of the report, which the consultancy says is a first of its kind in Canada. “Positive returns are not only possible but well within reach when companies develop meaningful and data-driven blueprints for investment tailored to their workplace and employee needs.”

Deloitte spoke to 10 companies – Air Canada, ATB Financial, Bell, Canada Life, CIBC, Desjardins Group, Enbridge, Energir, Husky Energy and Morneau Shepell – about their experiences and also analyzed three years’ worth of data from seven firms.

It found that the median yearly ROI on mental health programs was $1.62 among the seven companies whose data it could examine. Those whose programs had been in place for three or more years saw a median return of $2.18 per dollar invested. Meanwhile, the majority of companies with programs implemented in the last three years had not achieved positive ROI. “Programs are more likely to deliver greater returns as they mature, rather than yielding immediate financial benefits,” Deloitte concludes from its analysis. “Indeed, achieving positive ROI can take three or more years.”

Chapman says programs are more likely to achieve positive ROI when they support employees along the entire spectrum of mental health, from promotion of well-being to intervention and care. It’s important, she says, for organizations to track key performance indicators and calculate ROI to demonstrate the benefits of mental health programs, while using data to ensure investments have their desired impact and adoption rates, and fine-tuning programs based on results.

The costs of doing nothing add up quickly, which is why investing in mental health is the sensible course of action for all organizations, regardless of size or sector.

According to the report, 30 out of every 1,000 Canadian employees (a total of 500,000 workers) miss work for mental health related reasons each week. In total, Canadians’ absenteeism and “presenteeism” (working while unwell) amounts to $6.3 billion a year. So even companies whose mental health programs are not delivering a positive ROI “may be realizing greater savings than the national average, reducing the cost of doing nothing,” according to Deloitte. “Since greater productivity is closely linked to lower absenteeism, these companies are also likely elevating employee productivity.”

The benefits of implementing these programs do not end with the bottom line, says Chapman. Deloitte notes, for example, that many additional benefits of the programs are not necessarily captured in its study, such as reducing voluntary employee turnover, helping attract new employees and improving employee engagement.

According to the report, successful workplace mental health initiatives must include a variety of programs and policies, including leadership training, employee awareness and education, Employee and Family Assistance Programs, and processes to deal with leave and return to work. Although the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, published in 2013, is available to organizations in Canada and provides a “comprehensive framework,” only one-third of employers currently have a mental health strategy in place, according to Deloitte.