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Mental Health in the workplace

Mental Health in the workplace 4

For many years, those suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety were expected to suffer in silence – especially when it came to their working lives. Employees were encouraged to leave their personal problems at home and get on with the job at hand. 

In recent times, the stigma around mental health has finally started to lift. Businesses have come to realize that investing in the health of their employees (including their mental health) is also good for their business as a whole. People are becoming more comfortable discussing their problems and asking for help.  

And while this is a great starting point, many business owners are unsure how to go about implementing meaningful policies and programs to support their employees. We take a brief look at what the most common mental health problems in the workplace are, what employers should be on the lookout for, and how they can help their workers help themselves. 

Most common mental health problems in the workplace

Some of the mental health issues most likely to be affecting your employees include:

  • Difficulty managing stress
  • Substance and/or behavioral addictions
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia

More than 70% of employees in the US report experiencing symptoms of stress. It’s estimated that depression and anxiety cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Employees in the grip of depression may have difficulty making decisions and solving problems, and become withdrawn and disinterested.   

mental health

Signs to look out for

While mental illness affects each individual differently, there are some warning signs to be on the lookout for. If you’re a larger company, then make sure your HR team and supervisors also know to take the following symptoms seriously: 

Sudden personality change:

Someone who is normally upbeat becoming withdrawn and pessimistic may be a sign of depression. Conversely, a sudden upswing in mood could be a sign of substance abuse, bipolar disorder, or even suicidal thoughts. 

Ill health:

Emotional stress can have a very real physical effect. High achievers who are continuously coming down with colds and flu, for example, could be displaying signs of impending burnout. Problems and worries outside of work may lead to poor sleep, and workers who constantly feel fatigued and low in energy. 

Missed deadlines, absenteeism or frequently coming in late:

Any significant change in an employee’s performance at work should be treated as a red flag. Depending on their personality, this may manifest as a loss of confidence or feelings of inadequacy and incompetence, more aggressive behavior towards supervisors and colleagues, or withdrawal from social activities. 

Actionable steps to better mental health for your workers

Let them know help is available

First and foremost, your role as a business owner should start with letting your employees know that asking for help is okay. A ‘grin and bear it’ company culture never pays off in the long run. This is especially important if you’re based in a country or region where mental illness is stigmatized or taboo. Reiterate that you’re interested in each employee’s wellbeing during performance reviews or one-on-one meetings.    

Foster employee engagement 

Besides making them more comfortable to come forward with their own problems, employee engagement encourages workers to support their colleagues too. The larger your company is, the harder it becomes to keep an eye on the wellbeing of each individual. When your employees are truly invested in the success of your company, they become your ears and eyes on the ground. Make sure effort and hard work are rewarded.    

Encourage work/life balance

Many workers feel the best way to impress their superiors is by putting in extra hours. In some cases, they may feel it’s demanded of them to sacrifice their hobbies and interests outside of work, coming in early and leaving work late.  

Countless studies have shown that work/life balance is one of the most important factors in long-term productivity and engagement.  Address this by leading by example – making time for your own interests and obligations outside of work – and insisting that employees take adequate vacation time. 

How to approach an employee having mental health problems 

As with many personal problems, outsiders might realize there’s an issue before the person affected does! You can’t help someone who doesn’t acknowledge they need it. What you can do is try your level best to be approachable, and create the kind of environment that encourages employees to come forward. 

As a leader, you have a duty of care towards your employees. Ensure your company policies and approaches towards mental health reflect this.      

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