What does employee mental health mean for the success of an organisation? What should employers and managers be doing about it? We cover these questions and more.
Despite the fact that the impact of work alone on personal identity, self-esteem and social recognition is hard to measure, most mental health professionals today agree that the workplace environment can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental well-being.
Together we can all aim to improve employee mental health in teams, everywhere.
What is employee mental health?
Mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
Depression and anxiety are two of the commonest mental disorders that affect our ability to work, and productively at that.
A recent study led by WHO found that more than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression and another 260 million from anxiety, with many living with both conditions and that such disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.
Given that we spend half of our waking hours at work, our experience in the workplace is unsurprisingly one of the most influential factors to our mental health.
In fact, Mental health in the workplace was the theme of the recent World Mental Health Day 2017. World Mental Health Day is observed on every 10 October to raise awareness of, and support for, mental health issues.
The workplace presents many risk factors for employee mental health including:
- insufficient health and safety policies;
- poor leadership and communication;
- low participation in decision-making;
- limited control over one’s work space;
- lack of emotional support for employees;
- long and/or inflexible working hours;
- ambiguous roles, tasks and objectives, and;
- workload (both excessive and insufficient).
Then there are also additional risk factors, such as;
- monotonous and/or unpleasant tasks;
- lack of respect and recognition at work;
- inequity and favoritism in the workplace;
- poor interpersonal bonds/team cohesion;
- bullying (both physical and psychological);
- harassment (both sexual and racial), and;
- clashing of home and work demands.
Some frightening employee mental health statistics
In 2016, Safe Work Australia published the Psychosocial safety climate and better productivity in Australian workplaces: Cost, productivity, presenteeism, absenteesim report which presented an estimate that productivity losses associated with low levels of management commitment to psychological health and safety in the workplace cost employers a total of $6 billion per annum.
Another 2016 Safe Work Australia research, the Bullying and harassment in Australian workplaces: Results from the Australian Workplace Barometer project 2014/2015 report, offered insights on the prevalence of bullying and harassment in Australian workplaces.
It reported an increase in the estimated prevalence of bullying in Australian workplaces, from 7% in 2009-10 to 9.7% in 2014-15.
Another recent Safe Work Australia study focusing on the rate, type and causes of employee mental health issues found that on average each year between 2010–11 to 2014–15, the typical time taken off work with a mental disorder claim was 15.7 weeks.
The typical time taken off work with a mental disorder claim was 15.7 weeks.
– Safe Work Australia
This is three times higher than for all the other workers compensation claims and that 92% of mental disorder claims were attributed to mental stress.
The main causes of serious mental disorder claims were work pressure (23%), work related harassment or bullying (20 per cent) and exposure to workplace or occupational violence (11%).
Furthermore, the occupations found most at risk of mental health disorders were: defence force members, fire fighters and police (16%), school teachers (15%), and health and welfare support workers (13%).
What are the effects of ignoring employee mental health?
A workplace that is negligent of employee mental health often eventually suffers lost productivity. When not paid enough attention, mental health problems in the workplace can lead to:
Employees can suffer both mentally (from depression, anxiety, stress, panic attacks and burnout) and physically (high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, sleeping disorders and body aches).
All this results not only in unhappy employees but also inevitably, an increase in overall sickness absence, which usually occurs in frequent short spells that disrupt smooth workflow.
Mental health problems in the workplace lead to an increased amount of substance abuse, work errors, workplace accidents (which can easily be fatal if the work involves employees operating heavy machinery), poor decision-making, poor timekeeping and a general deterioration in planning and control of work, which all contribute to an overall reduction in work output.
Mental health problems in the workplace also lead to friction and animosity amongst colleagues, poor relationships with customers and more disciplinary problems.
It can also lead to reduced motivation and commitment and high staff turnover (which is particularly expensive for companies at top levels of management), all contributing to a bad, and potentially toxic, company culture.
What are some ways to improve employee mental health?
Initiatives that can protect and promote employee mental health in the workplace include a number of proactive steps that leaders can take.
You can help promote employee mental health by putting appropriate policies in place, such as;
- enactment and enforcement of adequate health and safety policies and practices including identification of distress and harmful drug use among employees;
- develop and thoroughly enforce a strict policy against sexual and racial harassment – these have no place in the world, let alone your company’s workplace;
- establishing programmes for career development of employees such as on the job training and sponsorship for further studies to keep them motivated, and;
- involving employees in more of the organisation’s decision-making processes such that they have a strong feeling of validation, control and participation.
A number of changes can be enacted to support positive employee mental health, such as the following.
- create a positive company culture of bonding easily, supporting and looking out for one another’s mental health instead of tearing down one other;
- encouraging a good work life balance by giving employees adequate time and incentive to spend quality time with their loved ones to keep them inspired;
- recognising and rewarding the contribution of employees, especially when they excel, so that they always know they are cherished and appreciated;
Actions you can immediately take
As well as the above cultural and policy changes, there are a number of activities you can start today, to help promote great employee mental health.
- encouraging healthy activities such as drinking water and eating fruit, as well as providing stress relief spaces such as a gym or nap/mediation room at the workplace. Here are 57 unique ways to achieve this;
- providing professional mental health support and putting those resources well within the reach of the staff such as regularly scheduled therapy sessions, and;
- stamping out all forms of bullying in the workplace – emotional, psychological and physical violence have no place in the workplace of any company.
Although mental health services have to be multidimensional to be effective, the workplace is an appropriate and important environment in which to educate individuals about mental health problems.
Employee mental health can make all the difference in the bottom line of the company. Take care of the mental health of your team, and make your company prosper.