I was called to a leadership meeting to discuss next steps following a final warning of a tenured manager for chronic absenteeism, inability to focus and meet deadlines and unexplained emotional outburst – all uncustomary behavior for a formerly high performing manager.
Nowhere in previous discussions with the manager was there evidence that anyone simply asked, “What’s happening, how can I support you?”
So, I took a shot.
I met with the employee and opened the conversation with “What’s going on with you, how can we support you?” Through the floodgates came everything from domestic violence to a diagnosed acute mental health condition that had clearly taken its toll on the employee’s performance and professional life.
The lesson here was that not all employees experiencing mental health challenges may seek professional help or disclose their condition. It is often left to manifest in the form of poor performance. In this case the organization offered benefits, along with federally mandated programs, and other resources to support the employee. We simply needed to initiate the discussion.
The exact percentage of employees with mental health issues can vary depending on a number of factors. Based on a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health In 2021, in the United States there were an estimated 57.8 million people (22.8% of all US adults over the age of 18) suffering from mental ill health.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that one in four people worldwide will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives. This suggests that a sizable portion of our employees may be affected by mental health issues at any given time.
Because mental health is emerging as a critical concern, organizations are beginning to recognize the impact of a mentally healthy work environment on productivity and engagement; and there is an increasing focus on building awareness and support systems for employees.
Mental ill health will not only significantly impact your employees but your organization as a whole.
While mental ill health may trend higher in specific industries like healthcare, emergency services, and other traditionally high-stress professions, there are many other factors that can lead to elevated levels of mental ill health such as geography, political and economic conditions in the world, and of course the ravages of a pandemic.
Other common factors threatening your employee’s mental health in today’s workplaces are:
Social isolation in remote workspaces
While remote work offers many advantages to some employees it can also lead to feelings of social isolation, blurred work-life boundaries, which leads to increased stress, and a lack of social interaction, which can impact the mental health of an employee and their performance.
The expectation of constant availability can stretch the boundaries between work and personal life. Based on statistical data, provided by EarthWeb, on average employees send and receive 126 emails per day.
That translates to 126 items of correspondence that require attention at some level which can make balancing work, family, and social commitments challenging. Self-care and mental wellness are rarely considered as part of the equation.
Heightened anxiety and depression
Stress in the workplace comes with the territory. But stress that is overwhelming, prolonged, and impairs daily functioning can lead to anxiety. In addition to heavy workloads and employees adjusting to remote working, there are other factors prevalent in most workplaces such as job insecurity, interpersonal dynamics, and workplace harassment and discrimination, all of which have detrimental effects on your employee’s mental health, how they present, and their performance.
The first step in addressing these challenges is recognizing they do exist, and not shying away from the conversation about strategic ways to address them. Start with a comprehensive approach that involves managers and employees. Encourage and train managers to conduct routine 1:1’s check ins with their teams to foster an open dialogue about workload, stress levels, and well-being.
This will help reduce the stigma and political incorrectness around mental health. It will also help create a supportive and inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns without fear of judgement or discrimination.
As tempting as it is to take the ‘I don’t want to get into anyone’s business’ approach, mental health and wellness is at the core of your business and meeting your business objectives. It impacts productivity, job satisfaction, and overall work performance.
Second, train managers to recognize when an employee might be in distress, and how to provide the right resources and support to employees, i.e., Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which provide confidential counseling and support services. Know when to engage Human Resources in the use of employee benefits and leave programs to address mental health issues before the damage to the organization and/or an employee’s careers becomes irreparable.
By building awareness, reducing stigma, and fostering open dialogue about mental health, employers can impact the mental well-being of their workforce and overall, health of their organizations.
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