Mental Health at the Workplace: Time for a Change
“We need to invest to build a culture of prevention around mental health at work, reshape the work environment to stop stigma and social exclusion, and ensure employees with mental health conditions feel protected and supported,” Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General.
Mental health has always had a shroud of stigma surrounding it; people suffering from mental disorders not only have to suffer the illness itself but also navigate social prejudices and exclusion. For centuries, mental health was treated as a curse from God, or as a manifestation of dark evil forces. Those suffering from conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, or depression were shunned from society or in Middle Ages Europe, burned at the stake, or locked in madhouses where they were treated as sub-humans.
Today, after centuries of stigmatization, discussions around mental health have become more mainstream, and efforts to combat prejudice against those suffering from these ailments have taken a huge leap. Social media has accelerated these discussions, as users have been progressively creating online safe spaces and raising awareness around issues such as anxiety and depression. While progress is being made online and more people are comfortable to open up about their struggles; mental health awareness and acceptance in everyday life and especially at the workplace are still lagging behind. According to the World Health Organization, “An estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety costing the global economy nearly US$ 1 trillion”. As such, it is highly important to understand what causes poor mental health in the workplace, its impact on the employees and their outputs, and what can be done to create better work environments.
Mental Health at the Workplace
Today, 15% of adults of working age suffer from mental disorders, and since more than half the world's population is currently in the workforce, the question of mental health in the workplace has become an urgent issue to tackle.
It is natural for everyone to go through ups and downs throughout their lives; however, achieving a balance when dealing with different social, psychological, and emotional upsets is key to mental well-being. As we spend the majority of our days in the workplace, work has become a major contributor to aggravating the workers’ welfare. Factors affecting mental health at the workplace include high workloads, elevated stress and frustration due to toxic work environments, phenomena like mobbing (group bullying), inadequate leadership, unclear communication, and rigid work schedules; all these issues can leave the employee feeling unsupported, anxious, and unsatisfied.
Indeed, such work environments not only discourage and unmotivate employees but also affect their productivity. Mental health issues have been demonstrated to cause a 26% decrease in output. Poor mental health can also result in increased absenteeism, high turnover, low performance, and most importantly low team morale. Simply put, when an employee feels good mentally and emotionally their work approach and the level of commitment they demonstrate changes drastically. In fact, feeling safe and supported helps employees reach their full potential, and by correlation, the work flourishes.
Still, the stigma around mental health continues to exacerbate mental morbidity, as a matter of fact, more than 80% of people with mental illness do not seek professional help for fear of losing career opportunities. This makes the creation of a safe environment where the employee’s mental struggles do not result in losing their employment of paramount importance. There are many ways to create a fertile ground for employees to thrive; work can in fact be a protective factor for mental well-being. There are several uncomplicated ways to do so, these include: creating clear anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies, providing employees with programs that promote mental well-being, building a culture of open, and respectful discussion where employees can voice their grievances, providing spaces for employees to decompress, and creating a general flexible environment.
To conclude, the first step to supporting mental well-being in the workplace is by destigmatizing mental health as a topic. Moreover, companies need to step up and be more proactive in their role in fostering a healthy and safe work environment by creating solutions that help employees flourish personally and professionally.
The article represents the views of its writer and not that of LEED Initiative.