In Brief

Mental health conditions are the No. 1 health-related reason for lost productivity at work and No. 2 for absenteeism, according to a recent survey of large companies by the nonprofit Institute of Health and Productivity Management (IHPM).

The survey queried medical directors, disability managers, human resource executives and others from 35 organizations that employ nearly 1.2 million workers in industries such as manufacturing, technology, oil and gas, and health care.

The employers reported that organizational culture was the most important factor affecting individual employees' work performance, followed by employee health.

"Organizational culture and worker health is something that psychologists have been talking about for a long time," says Lisa Osborn, PsyD, assistant executive director for corporate relations and business strategy in APA's Practice Directorate. The survey, she says, is evidence that more companies are getting psychologists' message that good psychological health is important for employees' and the company's success.

Through the Practice Directorate, APA serves on the advisory board of IHPM, a coalition of businesses, associations, health plans and consumer advocacy groups whose mission is to demonstrate that when employers invest in employee health, workers become more productive and, therefore, companies more successful.

"While many of the organizations are focused on physical health, all recognize the importance of mental health and the relationship between the two," adds Osborn.

In addition to mental health, many other factors in health-related absenteeism and lost productivity (called "presenteesim") are behavioral in nature. The complete lists, in order of employer-rated impact, are:

  • Absenteeism: musculoskeletal problems, mental health conditions, pregnancy, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular problems and family medical leave.

  • Presenteeism: mental health conditions, musculoskeletal problems, respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal problems, migraine and obesity.

The survey also found that the most common disease-management programs targeted cardiovascular disease and diabetes because of their medical cost. However, employers ranked neither of these diseases as having a large impact on presenteeism, and cardiovascular disease ranked low on the absenteeism factors--facts that point to a possible gap between what programs employees may need and what's being offered, the study suggests.


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