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Employees often have to take their work home due to a workload that is unable to be completed during office hours

As an employer, the mental state of your employees may not always be at the forefront of your mind. Especially in comparison to more obvious physical health issues, mental health is sometimes placed on the back burner when trying to understand what is making a certain employee seem unmotivated or lacking in work ethic. That shouldn’t make the issue of mental health in the workplace any less critical to improving or diminishing the general productivity of your employees.

When someone is experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or is currently going through a mental health crisis, the last thing that would benefit them is additional strain and scrutiny from their supervisors and colleagues. This is a guide for those who are questioning the mental health of their employees and are curious as to what correlation this has to the productivity of their company as a whole.

Read on to discover what makes mental health such a pillar in employee productivity, what kinds of workplace experiences can lead to an employee’s suffering mental health, and how you can transform your work environment into one that promotes positivity, self-love, and by extension, success.

How to Tell If Your Company Has an Employee Mental Health Problem

Initially, it can be hard to determine if there’s an issue with mental health within your company, especially if you were never particularly searching for it. If this is an existing issue, then there may come a time when you begin noticing a pattern in your employee’s behaviors. Though they can range, these signs are usually things like:

  • Employees frequently calling in sick or showing up late
  • Productivity targets that you see as realistic are not being reached
  • An unusually high employee turnover rate
  • Multiple complaints to HR about high stress levels among employees

If you begin noticing a similar pattern, there’s no need to panic. Though these things can be indicative that some members of your workforce are experiencing mental health issues, they aren’t a major cause for alarm. In fact, your recognition that there is an ongoing problem is the first step to creating a workplace where employees feel accepted and comfortable disclosing what they’re dealing with.

How Strong Mental Health Corresponds With Productive Employees

Data garnered from the American Psychiatric Association displays that not only do employees with unresolved depression garner a 35% total reduction in productivity, but this condition alone results in a loss of $210.5 billion to the U.S. economy. How does this condition, and others like it, result in such a dramatic productivity loss? The reasons include decreased attendance, medical costs, and responses to stigma.

Decreased Attendance

When an employee is experiencing symptoms of a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, it is not uncommon that they will begin burning out and underperforming, even going so far as to cease coming to work for days at a time during particularly bad mental health episodes. 

In these situations, your employees may feel obligated to lie about their condition and claim that a physical ailment such as a cold or flu is the reason for their absence. This stems from a sense of shame regarding their mental health. Without all of your workers present and ready to do their jobs, your overall productivity will take a bit of a nosedive in response.

Medical Costs

Medical costs are another factor that greatly decreases productivity in those experiencing mental health issues. If employees do not have proper mental health coverage in their insurance packages, then they must pay for any therapy, counseling, or mental health medications out-of-pocket. This financial pressure only contributes further to their symptoms and makes the issue even more exacerbated in response.

Feelings of Stigma

Finally, a feeling of stigma and judgment can be what is hindering your employee from working at their fullest potential during times of struggling mental health. If you have fostered an environment that is neglectful and uncaring, your employees will internalize this and use it as a frame of reference when discussing their situation with their supervisors. An employee who is not comfortable discussing their problems with the proper departments cannot expect to be one who puts their best foot forward during work hours.

That being said, do not take full responsibility for an employee that is going through a depressive episode or other mental health crisis. Though there may be contributing factors that you present to them, there is no single cause of depression. The illness is actually, according to the World Health Organization, the leading cause of disability. It is incredibly common, impacting over 300 million individuals worldwide, many of whom also experience symptoms of anxiety in tandem with their depressive symptoms.

Healthier Employees Means Better Business

It can be disheartening to learn that your employees are experiencing strained mental health, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When you take the proper steps to improve your workplace and attitudes toward mental health in your company, your employees will have very strong, very real opportunities to heal.

Mental illness is a heavy struggle, but it is very treatable. If you ensure that your employees have the access and ability to seek therapy and counseling, receive medication (if necessary), and take much-needed breaks when they require them, it is extremely likely that in turn, you will receive a large increase in both employee satisfaction and work efficiency.

Practice Self-Care

Though we focused very heavily on the mental health of employees, be sure to take time to maintain your own mental health as well. Management, higher-ups, and business owners are not immune to the effects of mental illness and deserve to be evaluated and cared for with the same amount of compassion.

In fact, it can be noted that management with strained mental health themselves are often those who aren’t aware that their workforce is suffering from the same problems. If your employees notice a lack of self-care in management, it is only to be expected that they’ll begin following suit.

If you notice that these are behaviors that are commonplace or very applicable to your place of work, then this is a prime example of the reasons that you may have employees that are likely to struggle with mental health.

Small Changes In The Workplace Can Lead to Big Improvements in Productivity

Jonas Østergaard Pedersen, International SEM Manager stated, “One of the best ways to prevent depression and anxiety is to establish a routine of regular communication, exercise, sleep and diet.”

A way to be active in ensuring your employees are at peak performance is by regularly checking on the general work-life balance of those at your company. You could be directly contributing an unfair amount to their stress levels if you have a work environment with the following:

  • Employees often have to take their work home due to a workload that is unable to be completed during office hours
  • A reputation for being “cutthroat” when it comes to distributing praise or bonuses
  • Little to no time is set aside during work hours for breaks and opportunities to socialize with coworkers

If you notice that these are behaviors that are commonplace or very applicable to your place of work, then this is a prime example of the reasons that you may have employees that are likely to struggle with mental health. These behaviors are often deeply embedded into our day-to-day lives and can be tough habits to break. Luckily, there are many opportunities to learn and grow from these challenges. Here are some simple ways to begin turning around the mental health of your staff.

Larger Emphasis on Mental Health Education

There are often available training sessions or exercises for employees to complete when it comes to topics like discrimination, harassment, and safety. With this in mind, it is definitely feasible to set up informal instruction for your employees regarding mental health and recognizing symptoms of mental illness. 

When it comes to such a serious and pressing topic, it is never safe to assume. Always consider that you may have employees who are genuinely ignorant as to what to do when they feel they are experiencing a mental health crisis. If they are ill-informed or have no idea where to turn, it means that you have neglected to educate them as an employer. 

This is even more significant when it comes to insurance coverage. If you do offer mental health services for your employees, but you’re still coming to find that you have multiple employees whose productivity is suffering as a result of poor mental health, you may want to consider that you haven’t done a thorough enough job in informing them about the offered services. Whether it’s not being aware of their benefits or simply not fully understanding how to access them, this is an area that might need extra dedicated time and attention. 

Regularly Assess Employee Workload and Encourage Breaks

When it comes to employees suffering from mental health issues, the sooner you identify the problem, the easier it is to resolve. This means paying extra close care and attention to employees who you feel may be struggling. 

For example, if an employee who typically has a cheerful attitude and positive demeanor becomes more sullen, withdrawn, or confrontational, take a step back and assess what the core issue may be. Perhaps they have been performing so well that management decided it was alright to increase their workload to an amount that makes them uncomfortable, resulting in high anxiety. Or perhaps they are experiencing symptoms of depression that are leading them to make uncharacteristic errors, and they’re too afraid to express this to management for fear of scrutiny. In any case, the bottom line is that a candid, open, non-critical conversation is the best way to reach a resolution.

Sometimes, employees worry that taking too many breaks, or any break at all, is a sign that they’re not being competent or productive. Ironically, this fear of being unproductive is exactly what causes them to fall into a bout of burnout. Giving the mind moments of rest to reflect and collect thoughts is a surefire way to make yourself feel more efficient and less overwhelmed. Be sure to actively encourage your employees to take breaks when they need them so they feel safe to rest when needed.

It is important to consider the pressures placed on your employee before you comment on underperformance.

Offer Occasional Wellness Days

Another solution to improving the morale and general wellness of your employees is to provide occasional wellness or mental health days. These can be as frequent or infrequent as you desire, and they can vary in meaning depending on what you deem as best to keep things running smoothly while still accommodating the needs of your employees. Some companies, especially in our post-Covid era, opt for allowing employees occasional remote work opportunities as a wellness option. Others will have special activities, snacks, or catered lunches for employees on their wellness days. 

Not only are wellness days effective in actually decreasing the amount of stress that your employees are experiencing, but they also have the added bonus of giving off an impression that you and your company genuinely care about those who work for you. Employees are more likely to be dedicated and committed to a company that they believe values and respects them. A workplace that supports mental health and advocates for the well-being of its employees is surely synonymous with a workplace that has a dedicated, loyal, and thriving staff. The benefits of such a space are countless, both for your employees and yourself.

It is important to consider the pressures placed on your employee before you comment on underperformance. It is essential that you pay attention to unusual and uncharacteristic behaviors among your employees. Even more important to recognize that change may happen slowly and on a small scale. 

Eventually, with enough attentiveness and dedication, your employees will be comfortable enough to seek help when they need it, inform you when they’re struggling, and feel as though their work environment isn’t one that exacerbates their struggles. When this happens, you’ll be amazed at what your staff can achieve when all of their physical and mental needs have been thoroughly met.

“Liz Connelly is a freelance writer and part of the content team at The Long Reach. Liz has worked in the business industry after her graduation.”

InnoHEALTH magazine digital team

Author InnoHEALTH magazine digital team

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