The role of mental health on workplace productivity: a critical review of the literature

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Background: Mental health disorders in the workplace have increasingly been recognised as a problem in most countries given their high economic burden. However, few reviews have examined the relationship between mental health and worker productivity.

Objective: To review the relationship between mental health and lost productivity and undertake a critical review of the published literature.

Methods: A critical review was undertaken to identify relevant studies published in MEDLINE and EconLit from January 1, 2008, to May 31, 2020, and to examine the type of data and methods employed, study findings and limitations, and existing gaps in the literature. Studies were critically appraised, namely whether they recognised and/or addressed endogeneity and unobserved heterogeneity, and a narrative synthesis of the existing evidence was undertaken.

Results: Thirty-eight (38) relevant studies were found. There was clear evidence that poor mental health (mostly measured as depression and/or anxiety) was associated with lost productivity (i.e., absenteeism and presenteeism). However, only the most common mental disorders were typically examined. Studies employed questionnaires/surveys and administrative data and regression analysis. Few studies used longitudinal data, controlled for unobserved heterogeneity or addressed endogeneity; therefore, few studies were considered high quality.

Conclusion: Despite consistent findings, more high quality, longitudinal and causal inference studies are needed to provide clear policy recommendations. Moreover, future research should seek to understand how working conditions and work arrangements as well as workplace policies impact presenteeism.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 22 Aug 2022

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