Not investing in employees’ mental health is bad business

A series of studies shows that millennials and CEOs have something in common: depression. Columnist Rob Enderle writes that not investing in them isn’t just bad business, it is stupid management.

depression businessman thinking loss sad overworked
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I recently had an interesting discussion with Dennis Miller who wrote the book: “Moppin’ Floors to CEO: From Hopelessness and Failure to Happiness and Success.” He referenced a series of studies that pointed to issues based on depression experienced at the bottom and top of virtually all organizations.

Apparently, millennials who are entering companies and the CEOs who run those companies have something in common. Both groups are apparently very unhappy and have high incidences of depression, significantly greater than other age groups or other executive levels. Companies aren’t set up to deal with the millennial problem and, I expect, the similar CEO problem is why so many of them are connected to broken families and career killing foolish decisions.  

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His premise, supported by the studies, is that we aren’t focusing enough of mental health for employees and we are likely ignoring problems at both ends of the spectrum. I looked at the studies over time and it is clear, generationally, things are getting worse. For corporate performance, this means that boomers, who were comparatively stable and well-adjusted are being replaced by millennials, who are increasingly neither.

This poor mental health leads to absenteeism, acting out, health problems and a sharp reduction in productivity. Unhappy, depressed people aren’t going to be your best performers. Coincidently, these studies corresponded with the results from a forensic analytics company that identified the cause for why the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) was underwater financially: When costs and prices were determined they didn’t figure in mental healthcare for millennials and, apparently, millennials need a ton of mental healthcare.  

Causes

It seems that the causes at both ends of the company may be similar in nature, but very different in form. It really is the loss of direction and social support structure. At the millennial end, we have the move from personal interaction with a complex reward structure to social media, which is mostly about attention and trends to the very negative.

You couple this with the lack of tools helping millennials choose a career, a focus on rewards for participation not accomplishment, and the massive decline in mentoring, you end up with an unfortunate buzz saw for new employees, who increasingly come into firms accustomed to awards and praise for just showing up, suddenly finding themselves in environments that often don’t provide any of that even when they perform.

For CEOs, there is little in a company that prepares them for the top job. It is a massive skill change and being a CEO may have been their ultimate goal, meaning that all roads from where they now are downhill. In addition, their status shifts relationships from being social constructs, designed to create recreational structures, to political constructs where people use each other for advancing hidden agendas. Distractions and temptations go up massively while deep relationships based on common interests outside of work and camaraderie evaporate. And, like the entering millennial, there is very little mentoring going on so the CEO feels lost an exceptionally large portion of the time.  

Finally, the CEO goes from a structure where they are rewarded for personal performance to one where they are rewarded for company performance, but they increasingly lack the skills and training to assure what they are compensated for. It is a wonder we don’t have more people from both groups ending badly.

Fixing the problem

Well, the first step is to actually recognize that there is a problem. Firms seem to want to cover up issues with a CEO, and ignore them with new employees, neither tactic has been working out very well. Mentoring at both ends needs to go back to being a thing. New employees need to develop a plan for where they want to go and CEOs for what they’d like to do next. If performance is being adversely impacted and health seems to be declining there needs to be an effort at both ends to determine and address the causes.  

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One of the big causes is that while companies tend to refer to employees as “their greatest asset” they tend to be overly focused on quarterly results these days and have cut investment in employee development dramatically.   That will be an increasing problem with millennials in particular, resulting in lower productivity, higher absenteeism and increased employee turnover.

Taking care of employees should be a higher priority than it is

This isn’t about not hiring millennials and just hiring older workers. It’s about the fact that as older workers retire, there is a growing need to increase employee care and provide for the mental health of the employees coming in. If you don’t want to do that these younger employees will increasingly underperform and become problems that will significantly reduce the firm’s ability to compete.

In the end, these young employees are our sons and daughters, they are our legacy, and they will be the ones who assure the work we did lasts into the future. Not investing in them isn’t just bad business, it is stupid management and fixing that should be a far higher priority than it is. The fact that similar problems exist at the top of the company is also an irony that shouldn’t be lost on any board of directors.  

This story, "Not investing in employees’ mental health is bad business" was originally published by CIO.

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