Mental illnesses from a macro viewpoint are associated with higher rates of disability, absenteeism, and unemployment. Emotional experiences like depression and anxiety often interfere with a person’s ability to focus and complete tasks and have even been reported to reduce cognitive performance about 35% of the time. While the impact may not rise to the level of a clinical diagnosis for most workers, they are still susceptible to stress and burnout, seriously affecting their ability to contribute meaningfully in their personal and professional lives.
Data from several countries worldwide indicate that mental health problems are behind a considerable number of employees dropping out of work, particularly as we navigate returning to work post-pandemic. It’s the elephant in the room that can no longer be avoided, with Covid-19 having a lasting impact on the workforce. It was hard before, it’s a crisis now, and we are at a juncture that requires us individually and collectively to shift our work culture and prioritize mental health.
Mental health was a massive issue in the workplace before the pandemic. It was hard before, and it’s a crisis now.
Mental health is something we all possess. When it is good, we have a sense of purpose and direction and feel that we can cope with whatever life (and work) throws at us. But just as our physical health fluctuates, so too our mental health. This is even true for solopreneurs or entrepreneurs, with one study out of the University of California finding that out 49% of entrepreneurs surveyed had at least one mental illness, and about one-third struggled with two or more conditions like depression and anxiety.
Emotional challenges at work can contribute to:
- Decreased productivity and performance
- Reduced engagement with one’s work
- Decreased physical capability
- Poor communication with coworkers
- Increase in employer mental health spending with behavioral health claims responsible for a 20% increase in that area.
At any one time, at least one in six workers are experiencing common mental health problems (some studies have it as one in five), and it’s no surprise that these adults are tasked with dealing with their mental health in the workplace. Depression contributes to about 400 million lost workdays annually. Poor mental health costs US employers up to $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year, and within the UK, mental health problems in the workplace cost the economy approximately £70 billion annually.
Good mental health enables not just the individual to thrive but the business. The WHO has estimated that for every $1 invested into the treatment and support of mental health disorders, business see a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.
Tips for Managers, Leaders & Colleagues
Some common signs that can surface in colleagues who are struggling with their emotional well-being:
1. They exhibit (or often talk about) physical symptoms, such as tiredness related to disrupted sleep or persistent headaches.
2. Withdrawal from the team, more isolative.
3. Loss of interest in work, sadness, or constant worry
4. Noticeable irritability or conversely complacent
5. Reference to increased alcohol consumption
6. Procrastination, indecisiveness, slowed productivity (missing deadlines and deliverables).
7. Absence may increase, or alternatively, they start to work much longer hours, starting early or staying late.
Employers are uniquely positioned to encourage employees to get help if they are experiencing issues with their mental health. Not only that, most workers want their employers to champion mental health and well-being in the workplace.
Employee/Self Care is Key to A Thriving Workplace
Five small changes that can be made with little effort and improve employee well-being:
1. Flexible hours. Discuss with your staff a reasonable plan to reduce their stress while navigating return post-pandemic. One size does not fit all.
2. Enforce working hours. This can be done by limiting out-of-hours work and encouraging reduced email access outside of office hours
3. Increase supervision and team support: If possible, avoid employees working in a solely isolated way. If they are working from home extensively, make sure there are regular check-ins not just on work but also on challenges that impact the work.
4. Share resources: Provide support services, share available resources like EAP information, child care options, and how to access staff members or consultants who have training in mental health and workplace stress. Make sure support is widely and regularly communicated.
5. Promote self-care breaks: That may include reminders to eat healthy, group walks, or quiet time at the end of meetings.
Other ways companies are investing in corporate wellness:
1. Changing company cultures – Get intentional about creating a culture of understanding and openness around mental health. This can mean HR programs taking steps to prevent burnout and build employee resiliency. It could also mean supervisors being mindful of and allowing employees to speak openly about mental health challenges or even implementing mandatory self-care time. Some companies have even implemented paid or unpaid mental health days from work, and staff is encouraged to utilize it before they feel overwhelmed or emotionally unwell.
2. Incorporate a Wellness Menu – If wellness is not a regular part of the culture, invest in it. Progressive agencies are mandating self-care, and a part of that is providing options for staff to pick from during the workweek, such as the 30 mindful mornings or wellness workshops I recently facilitated at a Law Firm in NY. Other options include training on topics such as overthinking and productivity, stress and the body, or trauma-informed care.
When the agency prioritizes care, it sends a message to the employee that your wellness matters, and that is often reciprocated back with increased productivity and a reduction in turnover.
It will take all of us to help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 related stress and the emotional impact it continues to have on ourselves, colleagues, and communities. Our Mental Health Consultant Team can support you in your journey to promote workplace well-being and raise mental health awareness in the workplace or to personally develop yourself. Get in touch to find out more.
You can find additional resources from The American Psychiatric Association (APA) here or when emotions are significantly impacting functioning refer colleagues to therapy here: Psychologytoday.com, Cliniciansofcolor.com, Therapyforblackmen.org, and Openpathcollective.com.
Amanda Fludd, LCSW-R, Psychotherapist and Corporate Mental Health Consultant