Why a robust and holistic approach to corporate mental health is essential

In the late 90s, Liz Hilton Segel was leading a group at consulting firm McKinsey & Company when she noticed something was wrong with one of her team members. They were working around the clock on a fast-paced project, and his work was uncharacteristically missing the mark. He said he was in the middle of a depressive episode and needed a break from work immediately. “He literally left the office that day, at 5:00 p.m. on a Wednesday,” Hilton Segel recalled. “And I completely missed it. I could have seen what was going on, I could have seen it in his physical appearance, in the way he spoke. But I did not do it.

The experience remained with Hilton Segel, which is now McKinsey’s global industry practice leader. As the issue of mental health in the workplace has gained more attention in recent years, Hilton Segel wants to ensure that employees get the support and interventions they need and that employers take the right steps. to solve these problems in the workplace. “We need to teach people to search, to ask, to check if someone is okay,” she says. “It’s about changing people’s lives.”


Mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, are not new to the workplace. Ever since there have been W-2s, workers have struggled to balance their mental health and well-being with the rigors of their jobs. But over the past two years, the number of workers struggling with mental health issues has risen sharply. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 30% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression– an almost three-fold increase compared to before the pandemic. “Every employer has seen the rise in mental health issues,” says Katy George, McKinsey’s chief human resources officer. “We’ve seen a whole host of depression, anxiety and isolation issues increase significantly.”

Failing to support employee mental health can cost companies dearly. Productivity can suffer and talent can head for the exits, sometimes abruptly. And companies with a reputation for not supporting the mental health of their employees may have a harder time recruiting top talent. Investing in employee mental health, on the other hand, offers many benefits to companies. To begin with, these investments can offer a considerable return: the World Health Organization estimates that every dollar invested in treating depression and anxiety yields $4 in productivity gains.

Beyond productivity, providing this kind of support to employees can help them do their best, most innovative and creative work. “If you’re in a stressful, sleep-deprived state and I ask you to be creative or handle a tense situation, you’re just not going to get it,” Hilton Segel says. “Part of the benefit to an employer is giving people the fuel or energy that allows them to actually display the level of creativity or emotional resilience that they need.”


So how can companies take a more proactive approach to employee mental health? The first step is to recognize that supporting mental health requires more than providing benefits such as increased therapy coverage. “We need to move mental health from a benefits conversation to a cultural conversation,” says George. “It’s about rejecting stigma and making people feel safe talking about their mental health needs.”

McKinsey is moving in this direction through initiatives such as learning programs that help employees manage their own mental health, as well as support the health of their colleagues. It is rolling out training programs to help employees identify colleagues who might be having trouble and offer support if they see signs of mental illness or distress. As part of this work, McKinsey has created a program called Mind Matters, which includes training 150 “mental health champions” at each of McKinsey’s locations around the world. These individuals can help employees through the process of supporting colleagues struggling with mental health issues while serving as a bridge to help employees in crisis access the full range of benefits available to them.

The company also extends these conversations beyond its walls. He launches McKinsey Health Institute (MHI) to catalyze action on health across continents, industries and communities. “One of MHI’s primary areas of focus is mental health and wellness,” Hilton Segel says. “We hope to foster a global conversation about how employers can advance the state of the art, learn from each other, and materially improve the health of their employees and communities. In the same way that McKinsey Global Institute focuses on economic productivity, MHI will focus on the well-being of all.

The pandemic has forced many companies to rethink their relationships with employees, from their expectations of how, when and where to work, to how they can increase employee satisfaction at work. Supporting employee mental health is a key part of this puzzle. “Work is such an important part of our lives, and employers have an obligation to support the well-being of our employee base,” Hilton Segel says. “And there are huge benefits to doing so, because it can unleash creativity, innovation and workforce productivity.”

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