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Why Mental Health in the Workplace Is a Conversation for the Chief Financial Officer (and Not Just HR) Employee mental health support has long been the responsibility of the Chief Human Resources Officer or Chief People Officer. But in today's world, this is also a business operations conversation for the CFO. Here's why.

By Alyson Watson Edited by Chelsea Brown

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The workplace has been grappling with significant change and turmoil over the last few years. From shuttering offices in March 2020 and returning 18 months later to a time capsule of year-old calendars and dead plants, some businesses (like ours) have pivoted to being fully remote while others struggle to find the right hybrid or return-to-office roadmap.

As the physical workplace changes, so have workplace culture and employee well-being. From the Great Resignation to quiet quitting, to whatever the next phase is, changes in the way we work have led to a lack of connection and feeling of belonging between colleagues, in addition to the challenges of proximity biases — all of which can have negative effects on employee mental well-being.

While I'm glad to see the U.S. Surgeon General taking a proactive step to curb toxic workplaces by recently releasing a framework to help employers take action to support the mental well-being of their employees, it doesn't address one key component to make it happen. Employee mental health support has long been the responsibility of the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Chief People Officer (CPO). But in today's world, this is also a business operations conversation for the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Why?

Related: 5 Steps to Creating a Workplace Focused on Mental Wellness

A unique bird's-eye view of the company

Responsible for the financial performance of the company, CFOs have unique access to data and insights throughout the business. This access gives them unique insight into every department — from sales and engineering to people/HR. CFOs are able to overlay this departmental data to gain real insights into not only how the company is performing, but go a layer deeper to see how this affects employees. Are employees that go into the office more likely to receive promotions or salary increases? Has engagement across company-focused events dropped? Is there a decrease in productivity? Has attrition increased? All of these metrics can help a CFO assess employee mental well-being and the impact it has on the business.

The cost of inaction

Seventy-two percent of employers fear that focusing on mental health could have a reverse ROI with employees working fewer hours in order to care for their mental health and being less available. That's simply not true.

In fact, companies can't afford to not support the mental health of their workforce. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion annually predominantly from reduced productivity. Twelve billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety alone. It's metrics like these that indicate CFOs, in particular, are uniquely positioned to make a difference when it comes to supporting the mental health of employees as well as the overall health of the business.

Related: What Leaders Get Wrong About Mental Health

The business case

As companies navigate an uncertain economic environment, they can't afford to lose their top talent. Our research commissioned by Forrester found that high-performing employees — those who are highly engaged and committed to their roles in the organization — are working more hours and are even more productive than last year, but are also burnt out.

Despite a reported high enthusiasm for their jobs, more than half (53%) of high performers report feeling burned out in their roles. The good news is that, for the second year in a row, employees said they'd be more likely to stay at a company that provides high-quality resources for them to care for their mental health.

But while 84% of employers plan to enhance employee mental health benefits in the next year, there is still a significant gap in how employees perceive their employer's commitment to mental health and wellness. Seventy-four percent of employees report wanting their employer to care about their mental health, but only half (53%) feel they actually do.

This disconnect should alarm every business leader. It underscores how many companies are still fundamentally approaching mental health in the wrong way. When you consider the cost of employee turnover — $600 billion in 2018 and $680 billion by 2020 — from a business perspective, mental health benefits become a simple ROI equation. From a human perspective, it's the right thing to do.

As strategic partners to the CEO, CFOs have a unique seat at the table to assess and advocate for the importance of mental health support in the workforce. And as purses tighten across industries, it will be key for CFOs to strategically assess budgets and spending to maximize not only productivity but employee mental well-being as well — two sides of the same coin.

Alyson Watson

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Modern Health

Alyson Watson is the founder and CEO of Modern Health, a mental health platform that combines clinically validated assessments, evidence-based digital tools and an international network of coaches and licensed therapists.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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