Mental Health Issues and an Unhealthy Workplace
Mental health in the workplace is something that many people would like to ignore, but just like physical health, good mental health is critical to workplace success. When you understand the sources of stress and their impact on your mental health in the workplace, you can take steps to ensure that you are healthy mentally.
A poorly run workplace can exacerbate mental health problems, or even induce a problem in a person who would otherwise be healthy. A study by "Mind the Workplace" found that mental health problems cost businesses $500 billion per year in lost productivity.
The "Mind the Workplace Study" found shocking information about how people feel about their workloads.
- 83 percent of employees answered “sometimes, rarely or never” to the statement, “My company appropriately deals with coworkers who are not doing his or her job.”
- 64 percent of employees answered “sometimes, rarely or never” to the statement, “If things get hard my supervisor will support me.”
- 66 percent of employees answered “sometimes, rarely or never” to the statement, “I trust my team or coworkers to support my work activities.”
- 72 percent of employees answered “sometimes, rarely or never” to “All people are held accountable for their work, regardless of their position in the company.”
In other words, people feel overworked, their managers and coworkers don’t support them, and they resent the fact that not all employees are held accountable for their work. No wonder people are stressed and frustrated with their jobs.
These are issues that you can fix, but fixing them requires good managers. Some managers find it easier to pile work on good employees and ignore bad employees, but this contributes to increased stress and reduced productivity.
Managers need to handle issues when they come up.
If an employee makes a mistake, that’s fine—mistakes happen. But rather than having the star performer in the department simply fix the mistakes, the manager needs to help the person who made the error solve the problem. (Of course, there are times in which a deadline is critical and you don't have time for training and development. But, overall, managers need to expect accountability from each employee.)
If managers step up to the plate and manage fairly, support their employees, and encourage their employees to help each other, not only do you foster increased productivity, you reduce stress. Reduced stress means a reduction in employee mental health issues.
Workplace Stress Influences Home Life
In the cited study, 81 percent of respondents said that workplace stress impacts their friends and family relationships, at least some of the time.
Employers know that stress goes the other way. This is one of the reasons for laws like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows people to take time off when they or a family member are seriously ill. If an employee is going through a divorce or a bankruptcy, employers provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help. Employers know that reducing outside stress helps increase work productivity.
But, stress can spiral. If your employee is stressed at the office, he goes home and takes out his stress on his family. If he’s acting short with his family, his family starts becoming short with him. That adds stress, which he then brings to the office, making it more difficult to do his work, which puts him further behind, which increases his stress. This is a never-ending spiral. It goes on until the situation changes.
63 percent of respondents said that their workplace stress resulted in a significant impact on their mental and behavioral health. Workplaces have an impact on the mental health of employees, and the relationship is quite clear.
Recognition and Reward Affects Employee Mental Health
Paying employees accurately and fairly reduces stress as well. 36 percent of executives, 43 percent of mid-level employees, and 45 percent of frontline employees say that “people are being unfairly recognized while others with better experience or skills don’t get recognized (e.g. praise, promotions” always or often.
The difference between frontline and executives is worth noting. It could indicate that the problem is not, necessarily, a lack of fairness, but a lack of communication between senior leaders and frontline staff. When employees don’t understand why and how promotions and pay raises come about, they consider them unfair.
Transparent Communication Affects Employee Mental Health
For example, John may think that he’s due for a promotion to management because he’s been in the department the longest. He finds it unfair or possibly even sexist when Helen receives the promotion. She has only been in the department for two years, compared to his 10.
What John doesn’t understand is that tenure isn’t the deciding factor, but the ability to do the job is. Helen performed at a higher level than John and has demonstrated leadership qualities. Thus she received the promotion.
When management keeps the decision-making process for promotions and career development a virtual “black box” that employees can’t see to understand, they rightly or wrongly see the process as unfair. Employees only fare well mentally when they can see and understand what they need to do to ensure their eligibility. If not, then they feel the system is unfair and it affects their workplace mental health and their sense of fair treatment.
It’s important to have a properly run, transparent workplace, to reduce stress and other mental health stressors for your employees in the workplace.
Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.