Mental Health at Workplace/Behavioral Health Crisis

The past year has taken immense toll on everybody’s mental wellbeing all across the world. Depression, suicide, anxiety, and stress disorders are no more something that one can leave behind at home and arrive at workplace with a productive mindset. It is about time organizations realize the need to encompass mental wellbeing of their employees within the ambit of employee welfare and medical needs.

The prevailing mental health conditions were further worsened by the pandemic. Almost seventy percent working population of the USA reported feeling stressed or anxious ever since the onset of the pandemic. The loss of employment or even the looming threat pushed many further into the dark alleys of mental unwellness.

Is it only a humanitarian question with no economic ramifications?

Not surprisingly, no.

Any productivity lost when quantified into economic terms sheds better light on the relevance of seeking solutions for problems like these. According to a leading mental health website of UK, it is estimated that people struggling with mental health contribute roughly 225 pounds almost 12.1 per cent of the total GDP of the country.

Imagine, the scope of productivity gain if this risk prone group is provided a work environment which considers their condition and fosters an ecosystem of right support and care through its wellness programs. Organizations stand to gain not just in terms of saving money and increasing productivity but also greater participation and initiatives in the areas of innovation and development.

However, the stigma associated with psychiatric disorders dissuades people from seeking help even in their personal lives let alone at a workplace. The hushed tone in which “so and so is having a rough day” ends up just being a gossip or an excuse to discount the contributions made by such employees. In worst case scenarios also grounds for unfair treatment or even dismissal from job.

To put it in perspective, the number of people actually suffering from mental health issues who are active part of the workforce is surprisingly high. Therefore, it is safe to assume that most workers would have suffered mental health issues at some point within their work life. The productivity loss and absenteeism are just the tip of the iceberg of this problem.

According to the WHO questionnaire often used to evaluate health and work performance, the costliest medical condition that ranked at the top was depression. The indirect cost of mental health that the companies bear far exceeds than what they spend on the direct cost like medical insurance and pharmacy bills. If the organizations invest in mental wellness care programs, they get to improve the bottom line of their workforce, in turn, improving roi by minimizing absenteeism and tardiness at work.

Let’s understand what happens at the workplace when somebody is suffering from depression.

They are nervous, restless, irritable and complain about physical pains. When working with people or in teams they may get passive, withdrawn and participation drops considerably. This leads to unproductive spells and general aimlessness regarding their everyday activities.

Mental Health Workplace

Often these depressive episodes are accompanied with insomnia and fatigue which in turn adds to the other by products of depression. It also impairs judgment and sound decision making during critical situations.

People on their own turn negligent or can afford only minimal care required for their condition. Relapsing episodes also mean aggressiveness at workplace, flouting norms and rules or just lack of confidence to a level when even day to day activities are not managed well.

It all boils down to the fact that if the employees who need mental health assistance are provided with it, there would be lesser financial costs to the company and the toll on employees much lesser.

Organizations should look at it as an investment which can bring returns in terms of fewer job-related accidents, sick leaves, loss of productivity and eventually affecting the attrition rate even. It can be an attractive component of hiring people from the next generation who value such initiatives by the organization they may wish to be a part of.

While organizations cover aspects like stress management and time management within their HR initiatives, but those initiatives are hardly enough for people who are suffering acutely. Initiatives like telephonic support, in person therapist within the premises are some of the concrete steps which need to be considered.

Institutions like hospitals and schools are rather pro-active in appreciating the needs of their employees regarding mental wellness however corporate needs to catch up and expand their umbrella of medical insurance and cover mental illness within it.

Organizations can take several steps like:

  • Awareness campaigns

  • Sharing of information through infographics, videos, and storytelling

  • A recharging space or zone of quiet

  • Coaching, aligning professional and personal goals, development dialogues

  • Skills like empathy and compassion need to be practiced and taught by managers

  • In house psychiatrist

  • Discussions around mental health issues during lunch meetings to address stigma and encourage people to seek help

The need for a wholistic approach to workplace health and wellness must include mental health coverage to ensure that the productivity and performance of the workforce is optimized. In developing economies it becomes even more important as workers are expected to put long hours for small wages and little benefits. A wholistic wellness program lessens the burden on such workers and motivates them to continue even when other desired expectations are not met sufficiently.

Contrastingly, in sectors where the workforce is highly skilled it again is beneficial for the organizations in the long run to ensure their star performers are not burning out. Mental health assistance becomes an investment in the human capital and saves money in the long run. It’s about time the organizations play an active role in not just destigmatizing mental illness but giving the much-needed support to their most important assets, their people, assistance to deal with it effectively.

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Workplace Efficiency