Mental Health in the Workplace

We are coming out of the two-year effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic took a significant toll on people’s mental health and well-being. Many people isolated themselves, and they might have been laid off from work or started working from home.
Some people who were deemed essential workers during the pandemic might have had to continue to work even though they were uncertain about what the pandemic would mean for their health and wellness.
It’s all affected mental health and well-being in major ways and has led employers to think more about their employees’ mental wellness than perhaps in the past.
The following are critical things to know about mental health in the workplace right now.

1. Pandemic Effects

The COVID-19 pandemic was a crisis in so many ways, with people dying and losing their livelihoods. Children missed out on learning and socializing, and businesses went bankrupt. There are also millions who are now below the poverty line.

The pandemic has led many to feel more anxious, and it has also led to or worsened more serious mental health conditions.
According to the World Health Organization, a significant number of people have reported experiencing symptoms of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
There have been increases in thoughts and behaviors related to suicide as well, including among health care workers.

2. Work-Related Effects

Along with the pandemic’s effects on mental health, many people are dealing with work-related stress, compounding their feelings of anxiety.
There are a lot of specific factors that affect stress in the workplace, including excessive workloads. It’s common for employees to have mental health problems because of burnout and exhaustion. These things can be a barrier to meaningfully contributing to one’s professional life and personal life. An employee going through burnout can’t work at their most efficient level.
Another source of stress is low pay. Employees who feel underpaid and overworked are more likely to have symptoms of psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety.
A lot of people still feel like there’s a stigma in the workplace regarding mental health, so they’re not comfortable sharing what they’re going through with co-workers or managers.

3. The Effects of Mental Health on the Business

There is a personal case to be made for caring about the mental health of employees, but also a business case. When employees struggle with poor mental health or mental health challenges, effects can include:
- Higher attrition rates. More employees are leaving their jobs than ever because of mental health reasons. Sixty-eight percent of Millennials and 81% of Generation Z’ers have said they’ve left roles for mental health reasons, voluntarily and involuntarily. That compares with 50% of respondents overall. Ninety-one percent of those responding in a recent survey about the topic said they believe company culture should support mental health.
- Challenges relating to mental health are very prevalent. They’re now the norm for employees at all levels, with
76% of recent respondents reporting at least one symptom of a mental health condition over the past year. This was up from 59% during the same survey in 2019. There seems to be a similar prevalence in mental health symptoms across all levels of seniority, rather than mental health issues only affecting lower-level employees.
- While some employees might have a fear of stigma, it does seem, based on recent research, that more employees are discussing mental health at work. This is a good step in the right direction because reducing stigma can help encourage more people to get treatment, and that can have a positive impact on the entire workplace.

4. The Company’s Role in Mental Health

Knowing how much mental health is affecting employees and businesses, what can employers do? An employer can have a very negative effect on an employee’s mental health or, conversely, a positive impact.

Employers need to know what workplace factors are negatively affecting mental health. For example, around 84% of respondents in the same survey cited above said there was at least one factor at work that negatively affected their mental health. Younger people and members of underrepresented groups were more affected. When looking at all respondents, emotionally draining work seemed to be the biggest factor negatively affecting mental health. Emotionally draining work might be overwhelming, stressful, or monotonous. Closely following was a lack of work-life balance.

Other workplace factors that seemed to have been made worse by the pandemic include poor communication and a lack of connection to coworkers and managers.

While there are challenges, it does appear that companies are starting to increase their investments in employee mental health. Even though they’re stepping up somewhat, there’s still not enough happening to say there’s been a true cultural shift.

Employers are seemingly providing more mental health benefits, like paid time off, mental health training, and company-wide mental health days.

Employers do seem to benefit from supporting mental health in the workplace. Workers who feel supported in their mental health needs were 26% less likely to report at least a single symptom of a mental health condition over the past year. Respondents who said they felt supported by their employer were less likely to underperform and miss work. They were more likely to feel comfortable talking about mental health at work.

The people who reported feeling supported in their mental health by their employer also had higher job satisfaction and indicated they were more likely to stay with their current company.
Employers should keep all of this in mind and provide culture change, starting at the top.

Leaders in all companies should treat mental health as an organizational priority. There should be clear ownership and accountability rather than relegating mental health only to HR. Leaders can share their experiences to create an environment of empathy and transparency.

Leaders, managers, and all employees need to be trained on navigating mental health in the workplace, having tough conversations, and fostering supportive work environments. Employees need mental safety to perform at their best level. 

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Posted - 08/22/2022