Your mental health doesn’t just affect your mood, relationships and overall physical wellbeing. It plays a key role in the day-to-day interactions. A person with good mental health is much likelier to thrive in their job than someone suffering from a diagnosed mental illness or other, acute mental health challenges — challenges that are, unfortunately, all too common.
An estimated 44 million American adults are affected by mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. These and other issues can dramatically hinder performance at work. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the global economy loses roughly one trillion dollars every year because of impairments in productivity caused by just depression and anxiety. The potential economic impact of all mental health struggles may be beyond measure.
Despite its massive impact on job productivity, mental health often goes unacknowledged by employers. This oversight can be detrimental to both employers and employees, alike. In fact, everyone stands to benefit from workplaces that recognize mental health as a priority and take concrete measures to support everyone’s mental health.
Effects of positive mental health in the workplace
It’s no coincidence that the exhaustion and stress of the pandemic triggered a period of unprecedented worker turnover. One November 2021 survey showed nearly 90% of respondents (all American workers age 25 and older) either recently left their jobs, or planned to do so due to burnout and a lack of workplace support.
The “Great Resignation,” as this period in time has come to be called, has been wake-up call for employers that had never recognized the importance of cultivating an uplifting company culture. The silver lining for everyone involved is that the problem is fixable.
Just as an employer’s lack of mental health support can contribute to employee attrition, the opposite is true, as well. In one survey, 79 percent of employees said they’d be more inclined to stay at a company that provided meaningful mental health benefits and resources. A Harvard Business Review study found that workplace mental health resources increased productivity, boosted staff morale and helped foster a sense of trust and safety for employees. Workers who felt that their mental health was supported, overall, were 26% less likely to report one or more symptoms of a mental health disorder in the past year.
Effects of negative mental health in the workplace
Various mental health challenges can negatively affect a worker’s productivity and safety in the workplace. For example, depression typically interferes with a worker’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time, and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time. For those who work in environments with physical requirements, depression can lead to injuries on the job.
A lack of mental health support at work can also contribute to burnout, which the WHO defines as a “syndrome conceptualized from resulting chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Workers experiencing job-related burnout can help counter these toxic symptoms by practicing gratitude and self-compassion, and focusing on the positive aspects of their jobs. But ultimately, employers must recognize that it’s up to them to ensure that they’re creating a supportive work environment.
The CDC outlines steps employers can take to support employees’ mental health. For example, they can offer free or subsidized clinical screenings for depression and other mental health disorders. Employers can also support employees by giving them the resources to find a mental health care professional that meets their individual needs. Some companies may opt to offer their employees free or discounted services from designated mental health care providers.
Remote employees need mental health support, too. In addition to providing extensive low-cost mental healthcare benefits, employers can implement simple measures that help remote staff maintain a consistent daily work routine and feel connected to their colleagues. Employers might, for instance, encourage remote employees to attend meetings with their webcams turned on and to maintain (more or less) standard work hours. Day-to-day routine consistency and interpersonal connectivity are both shown to support good mental health, in work and in life.
Finally, employers can empower staff members to have a voice in conversations about how to address potential sources of workplace stress. That means allowing workers to have real decision-making power in building a workplace that’s safe, supportive and conducive to everyone’s productivity and well-being.
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