The World Health Organisation (WHO) chose to highlight mental health in the workplace as the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day. This is no triviality considering that much, if not most of the adult population spends a significant portion of their waking hours in the workplace. Work in itself – whether paid or unpaid – is vital to overall physical and psychological wellbeing. Among others, two key reasons for this are that work impacts individuals:
- Intrinsically: self-esteem, sense of worth, accomplishment, value to society, meaning, and identity. And,
- Extrinsically: ability to pay bills, take care of loved ones, afford the things necessary for survival and comfort.
When we speak of mental health in the workplace, we consider how the workplace affects the workforce – the people who drive it – and how the workforce in turn affects the bottom line. Performance and motivation are heavily influenced by stress factors, organisational hygiene factors, culture and leadership – factors often overlooked when insufficient selection protocols are used to appoint individuals to leadership roles and ubiquitous ineptitudes entrenched in the organisation’s culture go unnoticed and unchanged.
The effects of such organisational inefficiencies are noticed when a company suffers high levels of presenteeism, absenteeism, insubordination, low levels of performance and morale, and high staff turnover.
If the statistic is that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and an organisation has hundreds of employees, then you can understand why ignoring the way that employees are psychologically affected by key factors in an organisation could create bigger problems than imagined – as current research demonstrates. These include financial burden to company, state and individual, increasing reliance on limited public health resources and numerous other societal concerns.
This year the mental health community joined the WHO to applaud those organisations that already take their employees’ mental health needs into consideration and implore employers who are not quite yet there to begin making strides to improve the experience of their most important investment, their human capital.
Management has a responsibility to care for their workforce. Making an effort to understand, connect with and maintain their mental health is an integral part of discharging this responsibility. It is important then that we work to develop stigma-free workplaces, where mental health is regarded as highly as physical health. A few good starting points for employers may be:
- Putting things in place to start changing the culture around mental health at work (programs, posters, shared information etc).
- Providing training for managers on considerations for mental health in the workplace
- Creating facilities or services aimed at supporting employee mental health and wellbeing.
- Helping staff to feel safe enough to disclose mental health issues to management.
Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental health problems. They are also easier to mask, which often results in worsening of the condition and the unlikelihood of receiving needed support. Do your managers know how to spot and address mental health problems when they arise? It is important that organisational leaders make every effort to build workplaces that are healthy, functional and equipped for high levels of productivity. Remember, “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets” (W. Edwards Deming).
Kelly Mc Farlane
Clinical Psychologist, Organisational Psychologist
Public Relations Officer, TTAP