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The Ripple Effect of Wellness: How Employee Mental Health Impacts Organizational Success

By Gladys Mwiti, Ph.D. Consulting Clinical Psychologist

Zen Smart, one of the newest hip marketing companies, prided itself on employing the most innovative young graduates, fresh from the best universities. The Millennials were fast, energetic, and enthusiastic to do their best. They were ready to work long hours, taking on more and more tasks that Management handed over to them without grumbling. The faster they worked, the more work they were given. The company provided snacks and coffee the whole day. Pizza was delivered for lunch, and fast food was provided for dinner because most of the team worked 16 hours daily. The company offered large, lazy, inflatable bean bags in their lounge for tired staff to snuggle on and take a break. Periodically, some tired young men would choose to “sleep” at work because they did not have demanding responsibilities at home. Work over the weekend was paid for handsomely, and many employees welcomed overtime. It paid well. Zen Smart did not have any Employee Wellness Program. The CEO pushed staff to make a profit, and their speed and perfection attracted many top-notch clients.  


Eventually, the heavy work that demanded consistent concentration, speed, and creativity started taking a toll on the team. Conflict and harmful competition increased among the staff as they bickered more and more. Some slowed down, but the more they slowed down, the harder they worked to compensate for lost speed. Others started having headaches, but the company nurse was at hand to hand out analgesics. Sometimes, headaches persisted, along with forgetfulness and insomnia. The primary referral doctor was a psychiatrist, and the staff seeing him went home with psychotropics, but no behavioral change or work-life balance was recommended. Some staff members started missing work. The company responded by terminating their contracts on health grounds. They could afford to let staff go because Zen Smart had a long list of qualified employees waiting to be hired, so replacing non-productive staff was easy.  

Poor mental health contributes to reduced productivity and increased absenteeism and presenteeism. Absenteeism is the phenomenon of workers who are absent due to illness and, as a result, do not perform business duties. Businesses use absenteeism rates to help measure their overall health and wellness. Presenteeism is defined as being physically present at work but performing below standard as a result of illness, substance abuse, injuries, or other conditions, like depression and traumatic stress disorder. It is linked to productivity loss, and often more so than absenteeism. Findings estimate that mental health issues and other chronic illnesses like diabetes will decrease work productivity by six to seven percent worldwide, resulting in global productivity reductions of nearly $9 trillion by 2030. According to Proudman, Greenberg & Nellesen (2021), depression has the third-greatest effect on the global economic burden of all diseases. Mental health issues have become the leading cause of worldwide disability.

Employee wellness is not a luxury. It has several benefits. It enhances belonging, where employees feel that their employer has their feelings, health, and wellness in mind. Cohen has shown that relationships within the workplace are a large part of whether an individual is mentally healthy (Cohen et al., 2023). Employees are a measurement of whether or not these benefits are being reaped in the broadest sense of the word. Research on organizational wellness indicates that employees supported by the company culture, supervisors, and management have higher psychological well-being because of increased job satisfaction and engagement (Monteiro & Joseph, 2023). Further, these same individuals are more likely to advocate for innovation in their workplace because of enhanced feelings of ownership.

A healthy employee who doesn't have mental health issues
Happy employee

Young professionals growing up in this digital age sincerely appreciate HR departments supporting their overall wellness. They feel the ripple effect of that caring. On the other hand, research indicates that organizational constraints such as work overload increase interpersonal conflicts at work and the intention to leave a job or profession. Research confirms a positive direct relationship between a heavy workload, negative affect, and the intention to leave the workplace. A study by Jasiński & Derbis (2022) revealed that workload is the strongest direct predictor of intention to leave the current job or profession. Work overload increases stress levels, intensifies physical exhaustion,  and amplifies interpersonal conflicts that eventually lead to an intention to leave a job or profession. Interpersonal conflicts at work often lead to sluggishness, discouragement, low self-esteem, devaluing oneself, stress, depression, and even aggression, peer abuse, and workplace bullying.  

Importance of Employee Mental Health

Employee wellness programs enhance employee morale and satisfaction, reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, reduce health costs, and improve the corporate image (Mattke et al., 2013). According to Jones, Molitor, & Reif (2019), wellness programs can help employees to change and maintain health behaviors. Worksites report better health behaviors after consistent wellness programs that include work-life balance, mental wellness, regular fitness exercises, eating healthier foods, less use of alcohol and cigarette smoking, and better control of stress. Wellness programs support individual health and well-being, a key factor for an organization’s innovation, output, and success. Employees' health risks are minimized: opportunistic illnesses, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and cholesterol.

Work wellness leads to happy and satisfied employees
Office friends

Offering flexible working hours is critical to work-life balance. Flexible schedules that cater to the workforce's diverse needs enhance employee productivity and satisfaction. This approach acknowledges the importance of work-life balance and empowers employees to manage their responsibilities effectively, resulting in increased engagement and a more harmonious workplace environment. When workers feel valued through flexible schedules, they find it easier to request to take care of pressing personal needs. Organizations that offer wellness programs remain competitive in the market and have recruitment and retention benefits (Gubler, Larkin & Pierce, 2018).

Some employers may already be providing employee wellness programs. However, our experience at Oasis Africa is that, with psychoeducation, uptake can be significant, multiplying wellness programs uptake in the workplace. Emphasizing the benefits of mental wellness awareness, a study of Kenyan employees found that low uptake was related to employees’ poor knowledge and the common negative perception of the program due to the stigma associated with help-seeking (Munyiri, 2023). The author recommends increasing staff knowledge and a better perception of the wellness program can enhance the uptake as colleagues encourage strugglers. It also helps when managers and industry thought leaders embrace wellness benefits among their teams. To this end, well-thought-out strategies aim to increase the organization's understanding and use of employee wellness strategies.

Therefore, to change employees' attitudes, creating an open and curious culture can go a long way. Some companies make wellness programs mandatory so employees understand that the support is available. Other companies encourage employees to use wellness tools, providing links to mental health, mindfulness apps, and resources so employees understand the digital programs. Another company launched "break the stigma" campaigns to create open conversations. Organizations must build a robust mental health culture to enhance employee experience and business performance. Ensuring that employees can leverage and benefit from these resources is vital. For example, a report from Great West Life noted employee utilization tends to peak when there is a cultural understanding, and individuals are supported by their managers.

Engaged employees mean higher profits
Engaged employees

Over the last few years, the importance and urgency of addressing mental health concerns have become more prevalent in every aspect of society. This includes the workplace; employers have a more significant role than ever in ensuring their employees are mentally and physically healthy. There are many negative impacts when organizations do not prioritize their employees' mental wellness. This can involve increased stress, decreased productivity, absenteeism, and presenteeism. Employees experience ripple effects in their day-to-day responsibilities, overall well-being, or how they interact with their teams. Over time, it can affect the organization's success in retaining talent, satisfying customer needs, and driving a return on their marketing and strategic investments. It is now of great importance for organizations like Zen Smart to not only provide the necessary tools available to support their employees mentally but to continually provide and refine wellness strategies to ensure the strength and longevity of their organization.

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Cohen C, Pignata S, Bezak E, Tie M, Childs J. (2023). Workplace interventions to improve well-being and reduce burnout for nurses, physicians, and allied healthcare professionals: a systematic review. BMJ Open,13:e07120 doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-071203. PMID: 37385740; PMCID: PMC10314589.

Gubler, T., Larkin, I. & Pierce, L. (2018). Doing Well by Making Well: The Impact of Corporate Wellness Programs on Employee Productivity. Management Science 64, 4967-4987 DOI:10.2139/ssrn.2811785

Jasiński AM, Derbis R. (2022). Work Stressors and Intention to Leave the Current Workplace and Profession: The Mediating Role of Negative Affect at Work. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 27, 13992. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192113992. PMID: 36360869; PMCID: PMC9658912.

Jones D, Molitor D, Reif J. (2019). What do Workplace Wellness Programs do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 134,1747-1791. doi: 10.1093/qje/qjz023. Epub 2019 Aug 16. PMID: 31564754; PMCID: PC6756192.

Mattke, S., Liu, H., Caloyeras, J., Huang, C. Y., Van Busum, K. R., Khodyakov, D., & Shier, V. (2013). Workplace Wellness Programs Study: Final Report. Rand Health Quarterly, 3, 7 Retrieved from

Monteiro, E., & Joseph, J. (2023). A Review on the Impact of Workplace Culture on Employee Mental Health and Well-Being. International Journal of Case Studies in Business, IT, and Education (IJCSBE), 7, 291-317. DOI:

Munyiri, N. E. (2023). Factors influencing uptake of wellness programs at AMREF Health Africa, Kenya [Strathmore University].

Proudman D, Greenberg P, Nellesen D. (2021). The Growing Burden of Major Depressive Disorders (MDD): Implications for Researchers and Policy Makers. Pharmacoeconomics, 39, 619-625. doi: 10.1007/s40273-021-01040-7.


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