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How Poor Mental Health Affects Productivity

By V.K. Eugene (CHRM-Chief HR Consultant)

It has been noted that there is a distinct correlation between poor mental health and productivity. In this article I hope to heighten your awareness of this reality and I will also discuss measures to foster a healthier mental state; all in an effort to help mitigate against an deteriorating work environment that suffers from the trauma of poor mental health. The reality is that mental health is often overlooked because it is a condition that can be easily hidden but has a huge economic impact on organizations, that being lost productivity. According to information published by SHRM, “Depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year at a cost of $17 billion to $44 billion to employers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Depression is a major cause of disability, absenteeism, ‘presenteeism’ (working while sick) and productivity loss among working-age adults.”

In a work environment that seemingly glorifies extra effort, extra hours, working from home to meet deadlines, all in the pursuit to drive higher margins and profits, leaders must be extremely cognizant of the effects a poor mental state can have on an Organization’s Human Capital. In addition, and more profound, leaders must be sensitive to the conditions that galvanize or trigger poor mental health in the workplace. Essentially, though it is justified to ensure increased profits and market share, we must always ensure that there is a balance and that our team members are in the right frame of mind to help us achieve more. As we have seen in the statistics above, poor mental health has significant and disastrous negative effects on our employees’ state of mind and, by extension, their morale and your productivity. Referencing my experience, one of the reasons we might not truly comprehend or recognize the impact of poor mental health in the workplace is because we have not been sensitized on this alarming concern.

What is also underestimated is the negative impact of the things that may be said to employees, specifically as it applies to their state of mind. A single statement, and even more critically, how it is said, can change someone’s attitude from very positive and engaged to very negative and disengaged. The end result of this change is noticed on the bottom line when team members behave and act in a manner that is fuelled by how they feel. It is important therefore to accentuate the fact that our behaviours are modelled by thoughts and feelings. If this is always foremost in your thoughts, then you will be in a better position to carve out a strategy that works for your success.

Please also remember that each team member has unique attributes and characteristics. A one size fits all approach can therefore be spectacularly unproductive when dealing with people. Drawing from my background and insight, leaders and managers who are emotionally intelligent or emotionally aware are well positioned to identify and pre-empt nascent mental health issues.

There are many stress factors that can trigger a poor mental state at work including ongoing conflict with a manager or a peer, insensitive Managers and leaders, managers who see numbers and not people, work overload, a feeling of being burnt out, unrealistic deadlines, a gossip driven culture, disrespectful managers and leaders, employees who perceive that they are not valued or recognized, sexual harassment, insufficient manpower to get the job done, financial issues, loss of a love one, and more.

Managers and leaders are encouraged to create and embrace an environment that fosters the mental welfare of their team members. This is a win-win situation for both parties as it allows them to recognize the signs in contrasting behaviours, and to address the seriousness of the problem by instituting measures to foster a culture that nurtures positive mental health. What you say and do matters, more than you realize.

It is important to create a company policy that focuses on the importance of your team’s physical and mental wellbeing. Make sure that policy is all encompassing with the end result being wholesome – physically and mentally fit employees drive the company’s success, but this is also important in ways that enrich their lives.

Encourage open communication with a trusted partner or a leader entrusted to focus on your team’s mental wellbeing. As a result of the stigma associated with mental health issues it is vital that the point person on this issue is emotionally intelligent and is someone who is genuine and confidential. Most employees bottle up issues because they fear how someone will view them or the risk of sensitive information being divulged.

An article published on SHRM written by Kelly Greenwood notes, “Workplace culture can reinforce the stigma around mental health issues. And so, 80 percent of workers will not seek help because of the associated shame and stigma. If they do, they cite a different reason, such as a headache or upset stomach, rather than admit they are taking time off because of stress. That is leading to what Greenwood calls a “huge retention issue,” with 50 percent of Millennials and 75 percent of Generation Z saying they left a job—voluntarily and involuntarily—because of a mental health challenge.”

Let us all play our part in not only raising the awareness of mental health but by demonstrating its importance in the workplace.

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