There are many mental health challenges that people face in the workplace. From behavioral addictions to depression, mental health issues can manifest in many different ways.
While it is not your job as a business owner or leader to manage the mental health of your employees, it is your job to set a good example and make their health a priority at work.
Better mental health equals better business results. If you want to see the best results out of each employee and your business at a corporate level, focusing on mental health challenges is a crucial and lucrative strategy to success.
Here, you’ll learn about the mental health challenges employees usually face, how to manage those challenges, and ways to improve moving forward.
WHAT INFLUENCES MENTAL HEALTH AT WORK?
Stress is the primary influencer of mental health challenges in the workplace. Stress can lead to behavioral changes, absenteeism, lack of focus or motivation, anxiety, tense relationships between coworkers and employers, and many other effects.
According to the World Health Organization, stress can come from poor organization and management, unsatisfactory working conditions, and a lack of support from coworkers and supervisors.
A person could be stressed over harsh deadlines, unclear instructions on new projects, unresolved conflicts with colleagues, micromanaging, and other factors in the workplace.
THE IMPACT OF STRESS
One report found that 40 percent of workers view their job as extremely stressful and 25 percent view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. The largest source of stress was found to be the workload.
Stress can have significant impacts on the physical and emotional health of employees. It can lead to physical ailments like headaches, muscle aches and pains, changes in sleep patterns, and fatigue.
Some of the mental and emotional effects of stress are feeling overwhelmed, restless, irritable, sad, or unfocused. It can also drive people to substance abuse, behavioral addiction (like addiction to social media or exercise), changes in eating, and isolation or social withdrawal.
These effects have a major impact on a business’s work culture and overall employee health.
Unhealthy behaviors, negativity, lack of creativity, and so much more can spread far and wide across teams and companies if leadership doesn’t take the time to consider the stress their employees are under and make a proactive change.
THE CURRENT MENTAL HEALTH LANDSCAPE
In 2017, Mental Health America conducted a survey of more than 17,000 employees across 19 industries in the U.S. The survey aimed to gather information on workplace culture, stress, and more from the perspective of employees.
According to the survey, the healthiest work environments can be found in healthcare, finance, and non-profit work. The unhealthiest industries were found to be jobs in manufacturing, retail, and food and beverage.
The survey revealed the following about workplace environments:
- 64 percent of employees believe that if things get hard, they won’t receive support from their supervisors.
- 77 percent believe people are being unfairly recognized, while those with better experience and skills are not recognized.
- 74 percent feel their work is overly focused on trivial activities.
- 63 percent prefer to work alone because their work environment is unhelpful or hostile.
- 79 percent are regularly distracted because of a poor work environment.
Here is what employees had to say about workplace stress:
- 81 percent say that stress from their job affects their relationships with family or friends.
- 63 percent of workers say the frustration or stress from their job causes them to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking or crying regularly.
These factors — lack of support from supervisors, unfair recognition, impacts on personal relationships — all negatively impact the personal and professional lives of employees.
This isn’t a full picture of the work landscape across the nations. There are healthy companies doing things the right way and supporting their employees. However, the numbers are telling, and they imply a strong need to provide better mental health support for employees.
THE COST OF AN UNHEALTHY WORK ENVIRONMENT
Not only are employees suffering from unhealthy work environments, but it is also costing companies real time and money.
The survey cited a Gallop study that found disengaged workers missed work 37 percent more often, were 49 percent more likely to have accidents, and 60 percent more likely to have errors and defects. This comes to an estimated total of $450-500 billion a year in losses in productivity.
On the flip side, those companies that have high engagement from employees enjoy a 20 percent increase in productivity and profitability every year.
Employee turnover rates in stressful and unhealthy work environments are also much higher. Mental Health America found that 70 percent of people were actively seeking out a new job.
Let’s review some tips to make positive changes in the workplace as employees and employers.
1. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
A healthy work environment begins with clear and open communication between employers and employees. Many times, mental health and the resulting behavioral challenges that employees experience is a direct result of a lack of communication.
Employees skip out on work, work less efficiently, and see higher rates of stress when they don’t feel heard, or expectations from management are unclear.
When assigning a new project or communicating information to employees, employers should assure that everyone is on the same page by asking clarifying questions and providing solid direction.
2. PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR EMPLOYEES
According to the survey results above, employees often do not feel supported by their employers. What’s more, employees expect even less support from their employers in times of stress or difficulty.
If you are a leader or manager of a business or organization, support your employees’ mental health. This can be done through a number of means, such as:
- Having regular meetings and check-ins with employees.
- Offering flexibility in terms of hours, lunch breaks, and making space for necessary appointments.
- Gather resources for employees focused on mental health.
- Conduct anonymous surveys of team members to find out how your employees are doing mentally, then, adjust based on their responses.
- Ask for employee feedback on leadership and communication skills to discover what’s working and what is not working.
Be involved in your employees’ lives and practice empathy in the workplace. Ask your employees questions like:
- How have you been handling your workload lately?
- Is there anything that you need to take off your plate?
- Do you feel heard by me and your colleagues?
- Is your work a major source of stress right now? Why?
- Is there any way I can better support you personally or professionally?
3. LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Employees are not likely to speak up about their struggles with mental health if no one around them is doing it, especially their managers.
To encourage a more open environment, be vulnerable with your employees and discuss your own experience with mental health in the workplace. This might look like advocating about your experiences with therapy, discussing stress and the resulting issues that come with it, and being honest about your mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic set a new tone for mental health awareness, and we are all more aware than ever that everyone struggles with their mental health. Use this as an opportunity to welcome vulnerability and invite employees to do the same.
4. MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE TO YOUR EMPLOYEES
One of the major issues in modern workplaces is a lack of access to management and upper management. Workers are more likely to experience challenges like depression and behavioral issues when they don’t feel seen, heard, or valued by their employers.
Employees often believe they are cut off from any of the creative brainstorming or decision-making of the company or organization. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and uselessness, which hurts motivation and productivity.
Whether it be mental health or brainstorming new ideas, make it known to your employees that you’re available to discuss anything. Be a safe space to turn to for your employees instead of a feared power source.
5. OFFER PERKS AND BENEFITS
The Mental Health America survey determined perks and benefits as key factors in positively impacting working conditions, engagement, and stress levels.
This is because employees are motivated by perks, encouraging them to work harder and earn more rewards. When the benefits are good, workers want to remain employed and work hard to stay in their position.
Offering benefits doesn’t always mean vacation days and health insurance. Some of the benefits employees associates with healthy work environments include workday flexibility, accessibility to management, two-way communication, and opportunities for professional growth, such as training and ongoing education.
CREATING A BETTER WAY
If you are an employer, supervisor, CEO, or another leader of an organization or business, take the tips listed above and tweak them to fit the needs of your employees.
Find a way to gauge the mental and emotional health of your employees. This might mean asking questions, having one-one-ones, or meeting as a full body.
Be vulnerable and forge a new path for your employees by beginning new patterns of addressing mental health in the workplace. In turn, you’ll see healthier, happier, more resilient employees.
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I am Adeyemi Adetilewa, a media consultant, entrepreneur, husband, and father. Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Ideas Plus Business Magazine, online business resources for entrepreneurs. I help brands share unique and impactful stories through the use of public relations, advertising, and online marketing. My work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Addicted2Success, Hackernoon, The Good Men Project, and other publications.