Mental Health and Return on Investment – Do the figures add up?

MH ROI Does it add up

Are you interested in the idea of supporting your workforce in building and maintaining their emotional health? Worried about the cost? Read on, this may help…

The term VUCA was coined by Warren Bennis and adopted by the US Army to describe the environments in which they needed crucial leadership and decision making. It has been adopted as a way of describing the modern business environment. See if it fits yours…

It stands for 





It’s fair to say many will experience current and future environments from this perspective. As a down to earth Yorkshireman boss once said to me “there’s nowt so constant as change.”

Since the start of 2020 we have experienced unparalleled change and and challenges. This is not going to change. As the impact of COVID19 gets shaken out across the world the acronym VUCA will be a fitting term to describe what we have ahead of us. This is not an attempt to scare anyone. It is simply a statement of a reality that I see before me. I’m a pragmatist, I can deal with reality. 

Most of us do not have an issue with reality. It’s our issues with fantasies that give us the challenges. The fantasies we build in our minds as to what the impact of COVID19 will be. What we make up about what this environment means for us and crucially, about us. We make mental connections between disparate pieces of data and draw conclusions by intuition. We look in the past and then reference forward to the future predicting what is going to happen. All in an attempt to control what happens next. 

In other words we stress ourselves out, and that is before we take into account any underlying mental health issues we may already have started as a result of our genetics or the environment we have been brought up in. Whichever way we look at it we have a challenging environment to deal with looking forwards and many of us are ill equipped to deal with continuous uncertainty. We are not comfortable being uncomfortable. To put it another way we are not as emotionally resilient as we would like to, or need to be.

That’s a real challenge because now, more than ever before, we need emotionally resilient leaders and team members. 

Emotionally resilient leaders and teams make clear headed decisions, show up when they should, take time for themselves when they should, are more productive and engaged.

That is really what mental health is about for businesses.

But mental health provision costs money

Yes it does. That’s the bottom line, no pun intended.

As a business leader/owner you know that any new initiative in your business adds to the cost base. In simple terms you just want to understand whether it is worth the cost, whether you have the budget and then decide whether you want to do anything about it.

Hopefully this will help.

Return on investment

This part of this article will split into 2 parts. A look at the Return On Investment (ROI) for mental health initiatives. It’s not all good as you may expect or want. Quality and consistency matters. The second part is the cost of doing nothing. We operate in the world of choices and as a business leader you are continually exercising choice. There is always the choice to do nothing. 


The data that is readily available for this mainly comes from the US and Canada where employers bear significant healthcare costs and have a direct financial interest in improving workforce health and promoting early intervention.

From these studies let’s go from bottom to top in terms of ROI. 

Studies carried out by Deloitte in Canada and published in 2019 showed the median yearly ROI on mental health programs was CA$1.62 among the seven companies that provided at least three years’ worth of data. Companies whose programs had been in place for three or more years had a median yearly ROI of CA$2.18. Programs are more likely to deliver greater returns as they mature, rather than yielding immediate financial benefits. Indeed, achieving positive ROI can take three or more years thus showing that this is not a tick box exercise (more on that later). 

The UK government’s Thriving at Work report highlighted a significant return for employers investing in mental health interventions: an average of £4.20 for every £1 spent (with a range up to £9).

Reliable research from the US came from a study by large US insurance firm LifeSolutions, which found a return of between $5.17 and $6.47 (in terms of increased work productivity) for each dollar spent on an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

An academic study involving work with the Australian Fire Service found that mental health training for managers led to real impact on work-related absence and an ROI of £9.98 for each pound spent. 

These are powerful figures. They can backup your intuition that tells you as a leader that genuinely caring for your teams and investing in their mental and emotional health not only makes you feel good and allows you to lead in a way that you would like to be led, but also provides real positive returns on each £1 invested.

Cost of doing nothing

There are plenty of statistics relating to health and safety and workplace absences available. Below I have chosen the most salient to mention.

Stress, anxiety & depressions formed 55% of all working days lost due to ill health. – HSE 2019/20 an increase on the previous period measured 

The average number of days lost per case of stress was 21.6. HSE 2019/20 an increase on the previous period measured

The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support  (LFS, 2009/10-2011/12) 

Mental ill health costs the UK Economy £42bn through indirect costs related to lower employment and productivity. (OECD 2018)

‘Presenteeism’ accounts for 1.5 times as much working time lost as absenteeism and costs more to employers because it is more common among higher-paid staff. Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health. (2009)

Instances of presenteeism have tripled in 10 years.  86% of over 1,000 respondents to the 2018 survey (CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work survey) said they had observed presenteeism in their organisation over the last 12 months, compared with 72% in 2016 and just 26% in 2010. 

The cost of losing an executive is up to 213 percent of the employee’s salary. – Centre of American Progress 2012

If you are working in a medium to large organisation then your HR department will be able to provide you with specific figures that apply to your organisation. If you want a quick snapshot though take a look at your total working days lost due to absence and the costs and 55% of that is likely to be due to mental health. That is your cost of doing nothing.

The presenteeism figures are more worrying. Contrary to first impressions, someone turning up despite being too ill is not the sort of behaviour you want. If their illness is infectious they are sharing it (BTW stress is contagious), they are under productive and the possibility of brand damaging or health and safety mistakes they can make is quite scary. A client of ours stated that from April 2020 when lockdown V1.0 happened and they were working from home to September 2020 they lost 1000 hours of sickness and absence. They put it down to people working anyway not because they were not ill. Subsequently we conducted a quick poll on LinkedIn and 81% said that during lockdown their sickness and absence had decreased. Presenteeism is not healthy and is a ticking time bomb. Which leads me to the time off stats. When an employee eventually gives in and admits they are suffering with stress or depression and they go to their doctor they are absent from work for, on average, 21 working days. That’s a team member, a manager, a leader absent for 3 weeks.

What are the options?

You know there is a need. You know that financially it can make sense. What can you do?

Here’s a few ideas 

One off wellbeing days

These are where you create a buzz, ask your teams to take time out of their normal working days to attend workshops or classes in yoga and mindfulness and get motivational speakers in. I am stereotyping and I too have been one of the speakers on many days like these. They have their place. They do show your team you care or certainly at the time you booked the day you cared. If they are a one off then their impact will be limited and your teams will see wellbeing and their wellbeing as something that is considered once everything else is done.

Mental Health First Aid or First Responder Workshops

This is where you ask people like us to train first responders in the business so that they can be aware of a possible mental health issue and make simple interventions. We provide training for these and used in the right way they are a really sound first step in mental health and wellbeing.  They can have their downsides (see these other articles here & here) namely that those who are trained can mistakenly be treated as workplace counsellors. Since they are not trained for that it can quickly fall apart as an initiative and if not managed well can cause more damage than good. They can also be seen as many as a tick box “we have done mental health” exercise when, in isolation, they are not sufficient.

Mental health and resilience workshops

We run a large number of these in organisations of many different sizes and industries. We get great feedback (see testimonial all over this site) and we have great results (see here). The benefit of these from our point of view is that they promote self awareness, and self help. They deliver tools to help the individual build resilience and thus minimise the possibility of mental health problems in the future. Again, done as a one off they are effective but many of our clients have strategy and run rolling programmes because they know it works.

Online support

There are a wide variety of “apps’ ‘ emerging on to the market that, at one end focus on symptoms such as depression and anxiety to the other end that focus on one solution such as meditation to cure everything. Some years ago to answer demand from our clients we started developing your own online proposition. This relatively simple project mushroomed into a new organisation with its own brand and identity. Inner Calm can help you assess and learn about your emotional health through our comprehensive personalised report. Then it guides you to the personal development you need to deal with the challenges you have or the areas you wish to work on.

Developing a strategy

The reality is that all the above solutions get requested from us regularly as part of one off solutions that organisations have decided they need at that time. We are often asked to contribute towards strategic discussions in terms of planning a wellbeing strategy and are happy to do so. Having a strategy that has plans to make wellbeing part of your culture (the way we do things around here) does not have to be expensive. It does, however, require thought and planning.

If you want to talk to us about your possible strategy, your budget and how you could make the best impact with it, or any of the above areas that may fit into initiatives you wish to run contact The same if you have any questions at all.

Meanwhile, I hope that this has at least helped you realise that you do have choices, that a restricted budget does not stop you taking action and that your investment in these important areas, can really pay dividends as well as make you feel good.

Worried about the cost?

If you have carried on reading this far here’s an idea of costs of interventions

1x Essential Emotional Resilience workshop a month for 12 members of your team which means that you can cover 144 people over the year. That workshop delivers the awareness and skills they need to build and maintain their emotional resilience. Cost £15600.

144x licences for Inner Calm for a year £3600.

There’s a solution for every budget.


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