On R U OK? Day we’re reminded that leaders play an important role in safeguarding and supporting the mental health of their teams. Asking after the mental health of a team member is the first step, and a very important one, in creating a more mentally healthy workplace.
However, what we’ve noticed over the years in our training and consulting work, and what we’ve read in studies from the major world economies, is that employees are reluctant to open up about mental health concerns to their leaders.
A study we completed recently confirmed what we’ve been hearing. We reached out to our community of managers and everyday employees and asked them two questions:
‘If a friend asked R U OK?, and the answer was ‘No’, would you tell them?’
‘If your BOSS asked R U OK?, and the answer was ‘No’, would you tell them?’
And, anticipating the response we might receive, we asked another question:
What advice would you give management to make it easier for their people to say ‘I’m not OK’?
We asked respondents to leave comments on the first two question if they wished, and we asked about their gender and age group so we could look for basic trends.
The results were pretty interesting.
Consistent with what we’ve seen and read, managers are a lot less trusted by employees when it comes to disclosing their mental health state. 29% of people said they’d hold back from telling a friend if they have a mental health concern. But that figure jumped to almost half when asked if they’d tell their manager.
Mental health issues are a common problem facing Australians, and the related statistics are telling:
Why is this so?
Access to care, language barriers, and a dearth of quality resources are a few reasons why, but perhaps the most insidious reason is stigma.
Mental Health Stigma Exists — and it Doesn’t Necessarily Stop at the Workplace
Stigma has a powerful influence in the world of mental health issues. Society at large often views people living with mental disorders as unstable, dangerous, or even violent. People with mental health challenges are often believed to be incapable of leading productive and fulfilling lives—indeed, sufferers themselves may even believe this. Research doesn’t tend to support these assumptions, but media and cultural expectations often bolster them, anyway.
These assumptions—real or imagined—can discourage people living with mental ill-health to seek much needed treatment. Their condition may make them feel ashamed, weak, and alone, which of course only compounds their mental health issue and propagates a vicious feed-forward cycle of stress, isolation, and illness.
Mental Health Issues on the Job
If we agree that stigma about mental health is virtually ubiquitous, then it becomes clear how this same stigma can exist in the workplace, too. Specifically, both employers and employees may assume a mental health problem will render a person less productive, less organized, and less able to focus on their tasks at hand. Of course, in some cases this can actually hold true, especially if an individual hasn’t sought treatment for their underlying disorder.
Many workplace team members living with a mental health issue choose to hide their issues. They often fear for their job security or are afraid to risk “losing face” in front of their bosses, colleagues, and customers. On their end, employers may not have the tools and tactics to talk to their employees about their suffering. Indeed, an employer may not even be aware that one of his or her team members is suffering from a mental health issue in the first place (unlike a broken ankle or other physical ailment, mental health conditions are often “invisible” and difficult to recognise).
It’s worth pausing here to reflect on something: mental health problems are common problems. It’s unfortunate that so many people grappling with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues believe that they have to face their challenges alone. Fortunately, leaders in business organisations are in a unique position to change the way their individual companies approach and accommodate mental health, which can have a profoundly positive impact on the issue of mental health as a whole.
3 Ways to Reduce Stigma Associated with Workplace Mental Health Issues
A workplace culture that stigmatises against workplace mental health issues can be detrimental to both individuals within a company and to the company as a whole. Breaking through this stigma can be extremely difficult. Here are 3 ways to get started:
From senior executives to entry-level team members, everyone in your company can benefit from learning more about mental health. Consider sending out company-wide memos, holding in-services, inviting guest speakers, or even running annual events such as “Mental Health Month” as a way to disseminate information and reduce the fear, stigma, and mystery surrounding mental health.
Work with your HR team or consultants to raise awareness about policies and programs designed to support both physical and mental health. Use discretion and show that you respect your employees’ privacy.
As a manager, it’s in your best interest to show your employees that they will not be discriminated against due to a mental health issue. Lead by example. Show that by acknowledging and seeking help for a health issue, a person can become an even more valuable employee at your company, rather than a liability.
To your mental health,
– Pedro Diaz
Traditionally, when speaking of Workplace Health and Safety, psychological injury is not something we thought about. But, as many professionals have realized lately, a Workplace Health and Safety strategy is severely incomplete without taking psychological injury into account. (for help creating a Mental Health Workplace Strategy visit www.wmhi.com.au) Psychological injury is also known as psychiatric injury, and it includes all mental, emotional and physical injuries acquired from the place of employment. Employees that suffer from a psychological injury due to an employer’s negligence can take legal steps against their employers, so it is essential to create a safe working environment to prevent such occurrences. Legally, it’s no longer ok to ignore the psychological safety of employees. Managers are now liable.
Yet, how do we know if an employee is at risk of psychological injury at work? One symptom of employees that are suffering from psychological injuries is a noticeable and measurable reduction in their production or in the way they handle, or their inability to handle, emotional issues. For example, they may become acutely defensive even when feedback given in a reasonable manner. Unfortunately, many businesses refuse to recognize that a place of business can have a severe psychological impact on its employees. However, considering that employees in full-time employment spend a significant portion of their time at work,it is clear that a workplace plays a vital role in an employee’s life. As well as their psychological state.
Traditionally, psychological injury was thought to be brought about by stressors in the workplace such as extremely high workloads, difficult employees, unrealistic deadlines or unrewarding work. Under this assumption, it was thought that a combination of stressors in a place of business increased the risk of psychological injury significantly. However, according to recent studies, other crucial factors can affect or cause mental injury at work. According to these studies, relationships at work and the level of support given to employeesis more likely to cause psychological injuries than anything else. In this regard, the less supported, the less valued and the less understood an employee feels at work, the greater the risk of a psychological injury.
This not only indicates that a change of attitude and behavior is required from employers;it also emphasizes the need to establish interpersonal relationships with employees. A positive relationship between employers and their employees creates a platform to handle conflicts well, which reduces the number of psychological injury claims made by employees. Additionally, through positive work relationships, collaborative behavior is encouraged, which promotes the establishment of considerationsthat can regulate the number of psychological injury cases that may arise.
A business that supports its employees through flexible arrangements makes employees feel valued, which encourages productivity in the personal and business lives of employees. To reduce conflict brought about by psychological injuries, it is essential for employers to create a safe work environment that is free of discriminatory practices and one that fosters positive work relationships between employees of all levels. By instituting training, campaigns and prevention strategies, employees can become more engaged, happier and less inclined to take legal action.
It takes effort, from both the employers and their employees to reduce the instances of injury. But, ultimately, it’s the employers responsibility to take the initiative to create a psychologically safe environment at work.
We help management create psychologically safe environments, and minimise psychological injury, with our many programs. In particular, our flagship course the Workplace Mental Health Masterclass for Leaders. Check it out and see if it can help you too.
Workplace Mental health is an issue of grave concern. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of absenteeism from work. Mental health problems at work can cause immense suffering to those experiencing them, and those around them. As such, there is an overwhelming need for managers, business owners and employees to address the issue of mental health at work. Managers particularly should play a significant role in promoting mental health among employees. However, it is essential that managers receive the right support to assist them to handle this task efficiently. If we are to empower supervisors and staff to make a positive impact on mental health it will involve giving them the proper training from industry experts and professionals through mental health courses.
A course on mental health would create awareness and understanding among managers, as well as teach them important lessons such as how to categorise common mental health disorders. Besides learning how to classify the signs and symptoms of mental suffering, they would also be counseled on practical strategies that can support members of their organisation.
The major benefits of taking a mental health course include:
The outcome of a good mental health training course should be to help management and their employees create a work environment where personal resilience is enhanced, and the comfort and safety of all employees is protected. This will enable the workforce to respond effectively to the challenges that arise while working, which in turn will enhance their confidence, allowing them to produce their very best.
Organisations often lose out on the expertise of capable workers due to mismanagement. Knowing what to do and how to manage the mental health of teams can be tricky. For most people suffering from mental health conditions, their last resort is often, sadly, a choice between a decline of their mental health or abandoning their jobs. Employers have a duty of care to their employees and investing in a course in mental health is the best way to secure the mental health of a workforce. The training should be practical and applicable so that the psychological safety and wellbeing of the whole organisation and its employees is enhanced. Good workplace mental health is good business and at the Workplace Mental Health Institute we want to help.
One way to notice a well-adjusted and mentally healthy employee is through his or her resilience. By resilience we mean the ability individuals have to bounce back quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Resilient employees have the capacity to handle the strains of the contemporary workplace. This means that they can manage stress well without necessarily placing their jobs in jeopardy. Resilience is good for workplace mental health. It allows an individual to respond to the demands of life without succumbing to pressure. Resilience also allows employees to deal with the demands of their jobs especially if the job requires them to change their priorities often and regularly. The ability to cope with the stresses and adversities of work and daily life requires a change in attitude and thoughts. But, how do you do that? Here are a few ways that employees can develop resilience at work:
Resilience is an invaluable skill to have in the workplace as it allows one to handle the difficulties that arise from working in a stressful environment. At the Workplace Mental Health Institute we take resilience very important. It’s a key protector of people’s mental health. Help your employees develop resilience and you immunize them from mental health problems.
Would you like to learn more? We run mental health courses on resilience. Our most popular course is the Building Resilience At Work. Check it out.
Employees undergoing mental distress affect most, if not all, organisations. This trend explains why people often take a day or two off work. To make matters worse, many individuals often experience anxiety when faced with the thought of confronting and discussing the subject because mental health continuous to be a taboo subject. Promoting mental health at work is beneficial to all parties involved including the supervisors because poor mental health will ultimately affect corporate productivity levels and, with it, the bottom line.
Although companies are bound by law to protect the physical and psychological well-being of their employees, they often lack specific guidance as to how to go about improving and protecting employee health. Issues in the workplace that impact on the mental stability of an employee include:
When the mental health of employees is secured in the workplace, it means that the employers care for their employees and that they are interested in promoting their wellbeing. One of the best ways to safeguard the mental health of employees is to eliminate or handle negligent and reckless behavior that may add to an employee’s stress level. Another way to promote the mental stability and safety of employees is by eliminating anything that induces chronic anxiety and excessive fear among employees.
The process of safeguarding people’s mental health at work should be initiated by top executives. Employers must take active steps to improve their workplace culture as the culture is often a triggering factor for inducing stress among employees. Alternatively, companies can also create comprehensive strategies aimed at promoting mental wellness. Procedures should include initiatives and policies that promote psychological safety.
Employers are advised to consult their employees before developing strategies aimed at protecting their mental health. The end result of well-formulated policies is a progressive workplace where the employees are encouraged to empower themselves. Comprehensive strategies that are implemented properly will automatically improve productivity levels significantly. Other advantages of improving employee mental health at work include:
Too many employees suffer in silence due to poor mental health at work, and it is the responsibility of business leaders to take steps to improve the situation.
Looking around at today’s organisation and it would seem as though employee loyalty to their organisation and organisations’ loyalty to their employees is dead. For many of today’s workforce, the greener grass at the other company or new position is too tempting to pass up. In fact, a recent study by LinkedIn showed that Millennials, those who reach adulthood in the 20th century, will work for nearly twice as many companies in the first five years of their career than their parents did. What’s more, today the average person will have twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime. Is this the nail in the coffin for loyalty?
A look at history
In the not-so-distant past, loyalty in the workplace meant remaining at the same company throughout a person’s career. During much of the 20th century, employees would work their entire career for one or two employers and in return, the organisation would give their employees the unspoken promise of lifetime employment and a pension retirement. With the popularity of unionisation throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, collective bargaining agreements and the promise of steady raises and consistent employment held employees to their companies during uncertain economic times where double digit inflation was the norm. However, as the grip of unions began to loosen in the 1990’s in favor of human resource departments and individual performance reviews, employee loyalty began to loosen as well. With the advent of the internet and the expansion of a global economy, suddenly labor costs could be cut dramatically by hiring a less expensive workforce in another country and a company’s loyalty to their workers at home was cast aside in favor of global expansion and rising profits.
While it is tempting to assume that in today’s economy, it is impossible for organisations to show loyalty to their employees, it perhaps is more important to redefine what loyalty looks like in the 21st century. Where our parents and grandparents showed loyalty to their company by doing their job tirelessly for 30 or 40 years, today’s worker is more likely to look for ways to use their individual talents on behalf of the organisation. Whether they are looking for innovative ways to solve a problem, creating effective work teams or helping employees reach their own career potential, today’s workers are driven by a need to see how their work relates to the organisational objectives as a whole. Managers who use performance reviews to discuss how an individual’s goals relate to the overall organisational mission will be rewarded with loyalty to that objective. Such loyalty is arguably more productive in today’s fast-paced business environment and contributes to a strong workplace culture.
Loyalty can also be defined as compensating employees fairly for the work they are completing. Too many companies rely on their organisational mission for their compensation strategy, arguing that contributing to their purpose should be enough to combat unfair wages. In reality, organisations who compensate their employees fairly and who have clearly defined objectives for bonuses and raises are more likely to retain their employees.
While it is nice to talk about organisation-wide strategies for both garnering and showing loyalty, applying these principles on a team level may be even more important. While more than 30% of Fortune 500 chief executives have lasted less than three years over the course of the last two decades, research from the Gallup organisation shows that employee engagement, a common indicator of productivity, has declined across industries over the last decade. Since top-down initiatives cannot function if senior leadership is in constant fluctuation, the lot falls to mid-level managers to foster team loyalty:
While it is unlikely a person will end their career with the same company they began it with, loyalty to a team or organisation is not dead. Instead, it has a new face that is reflective of a fast-paced, changing economy.
To your mental health,
– Pedro Diaz
Machiavelli once ruminated on whether, as a leader, it was better to be loved or feared. While he concluded that it is “safer” to be feared than loved, as humans we crave community and recognition from those we respect or who are in a position of leadership.
Our natural instinct in the workplace is to try to curry favor with the boss so we can be influential in the decision making process, know that our ideas are heard first or bend the ear of our leader when promotion opportunities arise. While all of this might sound great for you personally, it can actually work to your detriment in very important ways.
Envy brings out the worst in people
When you are seen as the “chosen one” in the office, your teammates and coworkers will inevitably begin to envy you. While it may appear inconsequential at first, your proximity to your boss’s power may present some challenges in doing your job. Coworkers will gradually shut you out of important interpersonal office relationships. Even those who eschew workplace friendships recognise the need for connectedness in sharing crucial work-related information and team communication. If you are seen as the boss’s favorite, you may be left out of the loop, intentionally or not.
Hitching your wagon to your boss’s horse may work against you
Currying your boss’s favor is nice while it lasts. However, bosses who tend to play favorites are also fickle in their affection. You may be the heir apparent to their job one week and at the rear of the pack the next thanks to a manager’s changing whims or perceptions. It is also unwise to attach your merit within an organization to anyone else’s. Sure, your boss is influential today, but should they lose their position or credibility, you will likely lose yours as well unless you are associated with something other than your boss.
You begin to lose your objectivity
The idea of “groupthink” was first introduced by Irving Janis in 1972. He theorised that groups who are insulated from outside opinions are subject to faulty reasoning, a deterioration of mental capacity and a lack of moral judgment. Whether that group consists of 2 or 20, the concept remains the same. The longer you spend in the shadow of your boss, the more likely you are to insulate yourself from the differing opinions of your coworkers. Without that difference, you lose the ability to make an objective decision. This, coupled with a growing sense of invulnerability inevitably leads to carelessness and negative consequences.
So what should you do instead?
As humans we tend to want to be recognised for our accomplishments. We want to feel as though we are in positions of power to affect change for the better. In order to do this without sacrificing personal integrity or career trajectory, it is important to act decisively and methodically in your relationship with your boss.
As nice as it may be to have the favour of your manager, you might find that it leads to greater stress and career hindrance rather than help.