Businesses face challenges from numerous angles, and leaders are tasked with understanding and addressing them. Many resources and case studies have helped leaders learn how to deal with things like competitive analysis, gaining market share, employee engagement, cost reduction, and manufacturing efficiencies. But a hidden challenge has made itself more prominent in recent years, and much of it goes unacknowledged by management: the mental illness of employees.
Data continues to show that the mental health of an organization’s staff is critical in determining how well an organization functions. Weakened mental health is a silent enemy, and it takes a keen understanding of its nature, causes, and solutions to address it effectively. According to the Johns Hopkins Mental Health in the Workplace Summit, mental illness is the leading cause of disability for U.S adults under the age of 44.
The Cost of Mental Illness
Studies show that people are greatly affected by their work environment. Their experiences, pressures, and failures take a toll, often chipping away at their mental health. As technology accelerates the speed of commerce—and as a result, its demands and shortcomings—a greater percentage of the workforce is squeezed in the vice we call progress. It has become a chronic problem.
The World Health Organization posted in a recent publication that worker mental illness, in its various forms, costs the global economy over $1 trillion each year. Employee absenteeism is more heavily caused by mental illness than physical illness or injury according to the Mental Health in the Workplace summit. One in five adults in the U.S. experience a form of mental illness and less than half are getting treated. A survey of office employees conducted by workplace consultants Peldon Rose reveal that three out of four employees would like their employer to oversee mental health initiatives, with workable plans and treatment opportunities. Ninety-five percent claim that their work environment is an important factor in their state of well-being and mental health.
Many leaders have a bigger issue on their hands than they realize: their workplace can cause their people great distress in ways that don’t surface to the passing eye. This, in turn, causes diminished effectiveness and organizational output. Attitudes suffer, and the cycle perpetuates. Mental distress causes abnormal behavior and responses. Anger, impatience, apathy, silence, and disengagement are observed responses by those experiencing mental illness.
The mental illnesses of concern aren’t degenerative clinical disorders. The most common problems involve depression, anxiety, and fear. With mental illness in the workforce, organizations experience abnormal turnover, communication breakdown, dissatisfied customers, and shrinking profits.
The Causes of Workplace Related Mental Illness
People consider their jobs to be a significant part of their lives, and not just for the obvious income-providing reason. Naturally, their lifestyles depend on a reliable source of funds. But the study of human behavior indicates that people need their employment for more than income, whether they consciously recognized it or not.
Our jobs provide us with purpose through opportunities of accomplishment. Employment, when experienced in a positive environment, offers the all-important sense of value. Working people look to their jobs to find self-esteem and satisfaction by being needed and accepted as competent. These are fundamental needs, and when they aren’t met, the spirit suffers.
Employees sense poor treatment when they are disrespected. This can involve being ignored, ridiculed, subjectively judged, or discriminated against. An employee’s emotions manifest as anger, resentment, or rejection. Worse than disrespect is abuse. A person who is reprimanded needlessly, insulted, antagonized, or threatened will develop a sense of inferiority or hopelessness. They may feel targeted, worthless, insecure, or fearful.
Poor treatment, and the pressures of a dynamic and demanding environment, cause some to wonder if they can cope. Survival mode is a desperate place to be, causing people to worry about losing their job and life-sustaining income. This weight also impacts their families. People experiencing these kinds of emotions can’t work at peak productiveness.
Depression can also set in. Experts understand depression to be a prevalent issue in the workplace. They know this from surveys, since it is by and large an unspoken subject at the employee level.
Mental illness affects much more than a person’s work. It negatively affects their physical, family, and social health. Leaders who recognize the importance of mental health create an environment that supports it.
Addressing Mental Health
The primary step in treating or minimizing mental health issues within your staff is awareness. Leaders who understand the problem and know how to spot the telltale signs have a great advantage in creating an environment that can effectively address mental health.
Reactionary measures rely on leaders being observant. When an employee negatively changes their behavior, there are definite reasons why. Look for indications of depression, nervousness, or unusual emotional expression. For example, explore why normally out-going people become withdrawn. Attitude adjustments like apathy, disinterest, or unwillingness are red flags. Of course, it helps for the leader to get to know their people well enough to spot such changes in behavior or attitude.
Due to the prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace, it is wise for companies to establish employee assistance resources, either on-site or nearby. Give people the consideration they need when facing problems, and offer professional help. Treat troubled employees with respect and support. A Fortune article by health and wellness expert Alan Krohll suggests reviewing and improving internal policies, and including all employees in the training. People are taught how to come alongside distressed coworkers and show them they are cared for.
Preventative measures revolve around leaders creating an enjoyable culture. Do you trust your people? Or do you micromanage and keep them under your control? Giving people the autonomy and freedom to make decisions prevents a controlled and powerless feeling. It gives their efforts meaning and assigns value to them. People sense themselves growing and enjoy being part of a group effort that appreciates their contributions.
A culture that supports employees—that offers direction, communication, and the resources needed to successfully accomplish tasks—gives people peace of mind. This diminishes stress and worry, and forges positive attitudes, mindsets, and feelings. Leaders who respond to the project needs of their people provide assurances that their environment is safe. Safety offers stability and confidence, resulting in satisfaction rather than anxiety.
As a qualified executive master certified coach I can offer beneficial counsel on maintaining a healthy culture. Give your people your best, and they’ll give you their best. Their mental health is worth protecting.
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