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Mental Health in the Workplace
is Both a People and Business Priority

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Hacking HR Team
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Posted on December 06, 2023

A peaceful pause in a bustling office, a seemingly inconspicuous decrease in engagement from a once-vibrant employee. And a subtle, yet palpable, shift in the atmosphere.

These are the silent and profoundly impactful indicators of a mental health concern incorporating its way through the workplace. Mental health at work is often shrouded in silent struggles and unseen workplace mental health problems -unspoken challenges and unseen impacts that permeate through every interaction, every decision, and every output- often unnoticed but significantly shaping a holistic environment.

Imagine this scenario: You are a manager of 10 employees. You notice that one of your team members, who used to be a high performer, has been showing signs of low productivity, poor quality of work, frequent absenteeism, and irritability. You try to talk to them and offer support, but they seem reluctant to open up or accept help. You wonder what is going on and how you can help them.

This scenario is not uncommon in today's workplaces.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a common illness affecting more than 264 million people worldwide. Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion annually in lost productivity. In the U.S. alone, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year, highlighting a significant concern for workers' mental health. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the mental health crisis, as many workers face increased stress, isolation, uncertainty, and fear, sometimes causing changes in sleep or eating patterns, worsened chronic health problems, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

World Mental Health Day Significance

Mental health is a universal human right' - a potent proclamation and the theme for World Mental Health Day 2023, which serves as a pivotal reminder and a global call to action. It urges organizations to elevate the conversation around mental health from mere dialogue to actionable commitment. It's a theme that transcends the boundaries of individual employee well-being, embedding itself into organizational culture, policies, and practices.

Why Do We Need to Approach Mental Health in the Workplace?

The pandemic has intensified the dialogue around mental health in the workplace, revealing a pervasive issue across all organizational levels. According to Mind Share Partners' 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, 76% of respondents experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59% in 2019. Notably, C-level and executive respondents often reported mental health challenges, not confining them to specific job roles.

Any peer could be silently battling anxiety while juggling demanding work tasks. Performance issues, low productivity, increased errors, and absenteeism initially present themselves subtly but are later recognized as mental health challenges following discussions about noticeable changes in behavior. This struggle is not an isolated one, 76% of employees have battled at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year.

For employees, poor mental health can lead to decreased focus, diminished performance, and impaired interpersonal relationships, affecting their career progression, personal life, and physical health.

On the other hand, employers face the repercussions of decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and high turnover rates. A staggering 68% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers have left roles for mental health reasons, indicating a clear link between mental health and employee retention.

Quick Glance: Mental Health at Work Statistics

  • Global Workforce: Over half the world's population is employed, with 15% of working-age adults managing a mental disorder (WHO).

  • Economic Impact: Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion annually due to reduced productivity (WHO).

  • U.S. Surgeon General's Report: In 2022, the Surgeon General released the first-ever Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being, emphasizing that:Over 160 million people are currently part of the U.S. workforce, making workforce mental health a crucial public health priority.

  • 2023 Work In America Survey (American Psychological Association):55% of workers believe their employers perceive the workplace as mentally healthier than it is.43% worry that disclosing a mental health condition could negatively impact their workplace standing.In the last month alone, 77% of workers experienced work-related stress.

These statistics underscore the criticality of addressing mental health in the workplace, illuminating areas for improvement and action.

Mental Health at Work Statistics: 15 % of working-age adults are managing a mental disorder. Over half the world's population is employed. Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion annually due to reduced productivity. In the last month alone, 77% of  American workers experienced work-related stress. 43% of American workers worry that disclosing a mental health condition could negatively impact their workplace standing.
Mental Health Statistics (Sources: WHO and 2023 Work in America Survey.)

What Causes Poor Mental Health at Work?

Workplaces are a complex web of interactions, expectations, and pressures, which, when mismanaged, can become breeding grounds for mental health issues. The World Health Organization highlights such factors as pivotal contributors to poor mental health at work:

  • Workload: When employees have too much work to do, too little time to do it, or too high expectations to meet, they can experience stress, burnout, fatigue, and exhaustion. The workload can also affect employees' work-life balance, as they may need more time and energy for their personal and family needs.

  • Control: When employees have little or no control over their work tasks, processes, or outcomes, they can feel powerless, frustrated, and demotivated. Control can also affect the autonomy and creativity of employees, as they may have less opportunity to make decisions or express their ideas.

  • Support: When employees lack adequate support from their managers, colleagues, or organization, they can feel isolated, neglected, and undervalued. Support can also affect the feedback and recognition of employees, as they may have less chance to receive guidance or appreciation.

  • Role: When employees have unclear or conflicting roles, responsibilities, or expectations, they can experience confusion, anxiety, and role strain. The function can also affect the identity and purpose of employees, as they may need more clarity or alignment with their work goals or values.

  • Relationships: When employees have poor or hostile relationships with their managers, colleagues, clients, or stakeholders, they can encounter conflict, harassment, bullying, or discrimination. Connections can also affect the trust and collaboration of employees, as they may have less respect or cooperation with others.

  • Change: When employees face frequent or unexpected changes in their work environment, tasks, processes, or policies, they can experience uncertainty, insecurity, and fear. Change can also affect the adaptation and learning of employees, as they may have less stability or predictability in their work.

An Infographic about Mental Health and employee retention. A staggering 68% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers have left roles for mental health reasons.  76% of employees have battled at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year. (Source: Mind Share Partners' 2021 Mental Health at Work Report).
Mental Health and Employee Retention (source: Mind Share Partners)

How Mental Health Affects Productivity

Mental health can impact productivity at work. Productivity measures how efficiently and effectively employees perform their work tasks and achieve their work outcomes. Various aspects of mental health can influence productivity:

  • Cognition: Mental health can affect how employees think and process information. It can affect their attention span, memory capacity, concentration level, problem-solving ability, decision-making quality, and learning speed. Poor mental health can impair these cognitive functions and reduce productivity.

  • Emotion: Mental health can affect employees' feelings and feelings at work. It can affect their mood, emotional regulation, motivation, self-confidence, self-esteem, and resilience. Poor mental health can disrupt these dynamic functions and reduce productivity.

  • Behavior: Mental health can affect how employees act and behave at work. It can impact their communication style, collaboration skills, leadership potential, innovation capacity, and ethical conduct. Poor mental health can alter these behavioral functions and reduce productivity.

Various indicators can measure the impact of mental health on productivity:

  • Output: The quantity and quality of work products or services employees produce or deliver.

  • Efficiency: The ratio of the production to input that employees use to create or provide work products or services.

  • Effectiveness: The degree to which employees achieve their work goals or objectives.

  • Engagement: The extent to which employees are committed to their work and organization.

  • Satisfaction: The level of happiness or fulfillment that employees derive from their work.

These factors can interact and influence each other in complex ways. They can also vary depending on each employee's characteristics and circumstances. Therefore, it is essential to understand and address the specific causes of poor mental health at work for each employee and organization.

The ROI of Mental Health Care

Supporting mental health at work is not only suitable for the people but also good for the business, providing a positive ROI of mental health care in the workplace for both employees and employers, such as:

  • For employees: Investing in mental health care can improve employees' well-being, performance, and productivity. It can also enhance their creativity, innovation, and learning abilities.

  • For employers: Investing in mental health care can improve the organization's culture, reputation, and brand image. Apart from enhancing its competitiveness, profitability, and growth potential, it reduces turnover, absenteeism, presenteeism, and healthcare costs.

How to Measure Mental Health in the Workplace

Conducting a workplace mental health risk assessment is essential for understanding the current situation, identifying the needs and gaps, evaluating the impact and outcomes, and improving the policies and practices. However, measuring mental health in the workplace can be challenging, as there is no single or simple way to do it. Therefore, it requires a comprehensive and flexible approach that considers various factors, such as:

  • Purpose: The reason or goal for measuring mental health in the workplace, such as raising awareness, assessing risk, monitoring progress, or evaluating impact.

  • Scope: The level or unit of analysis for measuring mental health in the workplace, such as individual, team, department, or organization.

  • Dimension: The aspect or component of mental health in the workplace that is measured, such as prevalence, severity, type, cause, consequence, or intervention.

  • Method: The tool or technique for measuring mental health in the workplace, such as survey, interview, focus group, observation, test, or indicator.

  • Source: The data or information for measuring mental health in the workplace, such as self-reporting, peer reports, manager reports, expert reports, or objective reports.

  • Indicator: The measure or metric for measuring mental health in the workplace, such as score, rate, ratio, percentage, or index.

One example of a tool that can help measure mental health in the workplace is the Mental Health at Work Index. It uses a combination of surveys and indicators to measure various dimensions of mental health at work, such as awareness, stigma, support, culture, and performance. It also provides benchmarks and recommendations to help employers improve their mental health practices.

Supporting and Building Mental Health in the Workplace

  • Cultivating a People-First Culture: Promoting mental health at work by developing a People-First Culture: A people-first culture prioritizes employees' mental and emotional well-being. Strategies might include:Flexible Work Arrangements: Implementing remote work or flexible hours to accommodate various needs and lifestyles.Inclusive Policies: Developing policies that cater to diverse mental health needs, ensuring equal opportunities and support for all.Example: People-First Cities initiative focuses on bridging health equity gaps by prioritizing community well-being, which can be mirrored in organizational settings by focusing on employee mental health.

  • How to destigmatize mental health in the workplace: Creating an environment where mental health is openly discussed and supported, and it involves:Awareness Programs: Conducting workshops and sessions to educate employees about mental health.Sharing Platforms: Creating spaces where employees can share their experiences without judgment.Example: Implementing anonymous sharing platforms where employees can discuss their mental health challenges, providing insights without fear of stigma.

  • Normalizing Mental Health Conversations: Ensuring that mental health discussions are a regular and normalized part of the organizational culture involves: a) Regular Check-Ins and implementing routine mental health check-ins or surveys. bAccessible Resources: Providing resources like counseling services and mental health days.Example: Initiating monthly "Mental Health Talks" where professionals discuss various topics, providing employees with insights and safe spaces to explore their mental health.

  • Leadership's Role in Mental Health Advocacy: Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the mental health culture within the workplace. Transparency: Leaders sharing their own experiences with mental health can foster an open culture.Supportive Policies: Ensuring leadership is trained to recognize and appropriately respond to mental health issues.Example: Leaders participating in campaigns like The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health to showcase organizational commitment to mental health.

  • Implementing a Comprehensive Mental Health Framework: Crafting a strategy that holistically addresses mental health in the workplace involves:Policy Development: Creating policies that provide clear guidelines and support structures for mental health.Continuous Evaluation: Regularly assessing and adapting mental health strategies to ensure they meet evolving needs.Example: Adopting frameworks like the Surgeon General's Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being to guide policy and practice development, providing a structured and comprehensive approach to workplace mental health.

  • Implementing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are workplace initiatives designed to support employees in managing personal and work-related challenges, particularly those that may impact their mental health and job performance. EAPs often provide services like: a) Counseling Services: Offering confidential, professional counseling for employees facing personal or work-related issues. b) Legal and Financial Advice: Guiding on matters contributing to stress and mental health challenges. c) Crisis Management: Offering immediate support and intervention in crises. Example: Implementing a 24/7 Employee Assistance Program line/number, one of the vital workplace mental health resources, that provides quick, confidential support to employees in need.

  • Establishing a Mental Health Employee Resource Group: A Mental Health Employee Resource Group (ERG) is an employee-led initiative to create a supportive community within the workplace that focuses on mental health awareness, education, and support. Key activities might include: a) Mental health employee support: Creating a safe space to share experiences and strategies for managing mental health. b) Advocacy: Working towards shaping organizational policies and practices to be more supportive of mental health. Example: Forming an ERG that collaborates with external mental health organizations, bringing in expert speakers, resources, and training to enhance the workplace mental health environment.

The discourse on mental health in the workplace has unfolded layers that beckon immediate attention and action. The silent struggles, the unspoken challenges, and the unseen impacts of mental health issues are not just individual battles; they ripple through the core of organizational structures, affecting productivity, engagement, and overall workplace harmony. The stories of employees silently battling anxiety while juggling demanding tasks or the subtle yet palpable shift in the atmosphere when mental health is neglected are not isolated incidents but collective, pervasive issues that demand a unified, comprehensive response.

As we reflect on the multifaceted aspects of mental health discussed, from its impact on productivity to the ROI of mental health care and from measuring mental health to building a supportive workplace culture, it becomes evident that the path forward is not linear. It's a collective journey where every stakeholder, from leadership to employees, plays a crucial role in safeguarding employees' mental health, so nobody doesn't just hide the silent struggles but transforms them into threads of open conversations, support, and holistic well-being.

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