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The costs of ignoring mental health issues in the workplace are too steep to ignore. Fortunately, solutions for addressing the issue are both abundant and affordable. Leaders who recognise the risks and the remedies influencing mental health play a crucial role in bringing about positive change. Their organisations reap the benefits of a healthy, motivated and productive workforce.
Mental illness is a growing concern globally, and it has a measurable impact on the world’s workforce. It has been estimated that 15-30% of workers will experience some form of mental illness during their working lives. Work-related stress, depression and anxiety are among the most common forms of mental illness in the workplace, with occupational stress identified as the most common cause of occupational disease. In the UK alone, mental health problems are estimated to cost employers £34.9 billion.
Psychosocial factors, or the interplay of work content, organisation and management, environmental conditions and worker skills and needs, have a profound impact on employee mental health and well being. Research suggests that poor management practices and inadequate leadership are the most harmful psychosocial risk factors in the workplace. Concrete examples of risky practices include shift work, unpaid overtime, excessive workloads, undefined roles and poor career development. In addition, improper job design, occupational uncertainty, and a perceived lack of value and respect in the workplace also contribute to poor mental health.
The consequences of ignoring the psychosocial components of work and the mental health of your workforce are far-reaching. There may be increased absenteeism, a loss of motivation and commitment, tension among colleagues and poor client relationships. Performance also plummets, as productivity decreases, errors become more common and processes are beset by poor decision-making.
Awareness of how mental health affects the workplace is increasing among employers, employees and society. In fact, evidence shows that the workplace is the ideal environment to raise attention of mental health issues and to offer accessible treatments. The most successful interventions combine primary prevention strategies (e.g. reducing psychosocial risk factors) with secondary intervention strategies (e.g. improving workers’ ability to deal with stressors). The specific steps taken as part of a prevention and intervention plan should be carefully tailored to suit the context, ensuring optimal results.
Some primary prevention strategies might include developing work schedules that foster a healthy work-life balance, involving employees in decisions about the work environment and task distribution, ensuring workers are engaged in projects compatible with their skills and expertise and promoting stability in the workplace with opportunities for professional development. Incorporating strategic breaks and time off when tasks are especially physically or mentally demanding also contributes to workforce well being.
Positive psychology studies “the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions.” It focuses on identifying and enhancing strengths or what is being done well, rather than trying to identify and fix what is ‘wrong.’ Applied to the workplace, it encourages promoting the positive aspects of work as well as workers’ strengths and abilities. Studies have shown that shifting from a mainly negative to a positive focus in this way boosts employee engagement. Positive psychology advocates for developing healthy workplaces through positive leadership practices , meaningful work and a positive organisational climate.
A recurring theme in conversations around occupational mental health is the strong influence of leaders on employee well being. Leadership practices set the tone in the workplace, either fostering a positive atmosphere or contributing to an environment where mental health suffers. Organisations often struggle in this arena, confusing management with true leadership. Effective leaders draw on non-technical skills to motivate and inspire their team to achieve organisational goals. Cultivating leaders with these capabilities supports the development of a culture that exhibits care. At DEKRA we offer a range of services designed to create authentic leadership embedded in a Culture of Care that understands the value of supporting mental health and well-being in the workplace.
Author: Lauren Scott, Project Coordinator at DEKRA Organisational Reliability