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Updated: March 14, 2024 Ask ACE

Ask ACE: What are the costs of an unhealthy workforce?

Q: What are the costs of an unhealthy workforce?

ACE Advises: In the short term, stress helps employees focus and push past barriers. But with just a little more time it wears them down, reducing work effectiveness and has a very real impact on their physical and mental health. The U.S. Surgeon General has identified workplace well-being as one of six public health priorities, recently creating a “Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being.”

In the introduction to the framework, the surgeon general notes that employers are “increasingly aware of another trade off: when the mental health of workers suffers, so does workplace productivity, creativity and retention.” A healthy workplace benefits not just the individual worker but also provides a competitive advantage for the employer.

In a recent survey by the American Psychology Association, 81% of respondents said that an employer’s support of mental health will be an important consideration for them when they look for future work.

To create this environment, business leaders must turn their eyes toward their organization’s culture to assess both intentional and unintentional workplace patterns. Building new habits and patterns to enhance employee well-being takes time and intentionality.

According to the surgeon general, the assessment’s focus should be on patterns in areas that have the greatest impact on employee stress: work-life balance, finding meaningfulness in work, support of learning and growth, and the ability to act, make decisions and express opinions while still feeling secure in their employment.

This last point bears repeating: When employers show that it is possible to admit mistakes or a lack of knowledge without negative consequences, they build a workplace culture that allows people to thrive. Leaders must focus on creating experiences that demonstrate that it is safe to be vulnerable. Stay focused on that goal for enduring change.

Matthew Opuda, an ACE board member, is founder of Northstar Evolution, which works with small and growing businesses at the intersection of people, technology and strategy, to yield better results. He offers individual coaching and team workshops.

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