Many people suffer mental health problems at least once in their life. These struggles can often be related to work. In fact, at some point in their career, 60% of employees have suffered a mental health problem as a result of work or where their work was a factor. This in turn has an effect on the economy. Through reduced productivity, absence and staff turnover, mental health problems cost the UK economy £34.9 billion in 2017. Mental health, then, is a double-edged sword, damaging the lives of those that suffer whilst also having an adverse effect on the economy.
Clearly, mental health is an issue which needs continually addressing and, although progress is constantly being made, there are still some troubling statistics which imply organisations and managers may not be doing enough to help their employees. One study showed that only 44% percent of employees feel their organisation does well in supporting those with mental health issues, whilst 27% of employees believe their organisation does not support those with mental health issues. In other words, less than half of organisations are properly dealing with mental health and nearly a third are doing nothing at all.
Managers and Mental Health
One of the problems lies in people’s attitudes towards mental health and their fear of others’ attitudes towards them. Employees may fear that admitting their struggles with mental health could have a negative effect on their career progression. This may not be wholly unfounded. Frighteningly, in a study cited previously, 15% of cases in which an employee disclosed mental health issues to a manager ended with the employee becoming subject to disciplinary procedures, dismissal or demotion. This implies that some managers are still dismissive and suspicious of mental health problems, making sense of the fact that most employees do not feel comfortable talking to their boss about them.
Managers, then, may not be doing enough to quell the image of them as hard-nosed or unforgiving. These are old business tropes that it might do well to banish to the past. With nearly a quarter of employees believing their organisation does not take wellbeing seriously, it is not wonder many are avoiding talking to higher-ups about their genuine struggles, for fear of disapproval and even workplace bullying.
In our work lives, the predominant cause of stress, depression or anxiety is workload, be it an overload of work, tight deadlines or too much pressure. Given that many of us may fear appearing unable to cope in front of our bosses or colleagues, we are more likely to suffer in silence. If managers continue, whether rightly or wrongly, to be perceived as uncaring about their employees’ mental wellbeing, the problem will continue to exacerbate. Talking to someone could be the key to helping escape the predicament, but with fear of their attitude towards you, you can only isolate yourself more, thereby making the workload even more imposing and increasing stress, anxiety and depression.
Managers, too, however, deserve some sympathy and certainly should not be painted as monsters; they are likely to have suffered from mental health themselves, so may be sympathetic to their employees’ issues. Regardless, mental health can still be an uncomfortable discussion to bring up and managers may lack confidence in their ability to properly navigate the conversation as well as how to correctly bring up possible issues. Managers also may lack confidence in their ability to recognise when an employee is suffering from a mental health issue.
For more hard-nosed managers, the solution seems to revolve around recognition that any perception of them as harsh and uncaring about mental health could genuinely put their organisation at a disadvantage. Also, recognition that valuing their employee’s mental wellbeing will in no way reduce the respect they receive as businesspeople. Ironically, a proper understanding of mental health for these types of managers is likely to improve their business, as their team will be more engaged, more productive and take fewer days off.
For managers simply struggling with knowing how to deal with the mental health issues of their employees, basic training could be key. Learning how to recognise when an employee is struggling, as well as how to properly approach the issue and discuss the topic with the person in a constructive way could, again, help all parties no end.
Another solution is the ongoing de-stigmatisation of mental health problems, which is thankfully continuing around the world. Mental health problems are clearly normal. Large numbers of us experience them at some point in our life. The more able we are to discuss them with family, friends, colleagues and eventually bosses the more likely life is going to be made easier and, in fact, more fruitful for both employees and employers. So, it’s vital for all managers to make clear to their employees that if they report mental health problems they will not be punished nor met with ill will. This way, employees will not have to struggle alone, can have their problems heard, and then solved and in turn their productivity and morale will increase, positively impacting the company.
Author: Conor Todd is content creator at FreeOfficeFinder
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