For a group of professionals to operate at their best, there has to be consistent mental well-being among all of the members. After all, the workplace represents a thinking environment that harnesses the skills, strategies, and obligations of many. Thus, groups, teams, and companies are like the organs of the human body: any one of them could experience inefficiency and even severe disruption from just a single member, and the health of the total is at risk. For this reason, it is prudent for the business manager to be alert for warning signals that one or more persons may be suffering from mental dysfunction since this type of problem impacts everyone both individually and collectively. Worse, besides being prudent for the company, it is ethical to support the mental health of the company’s individuals.
The Scope of the Problem
Nearly one in five U.S. adults report some type of mental challenge, running the gamut from anxiety to obvious psychosis. Approximately 71% of adults report there is stress or stress-related symptomatology affecting them. The workplace is not immune to these statistics. If the workplace itself is demanding, due to the nature of its function, these numbers climb even higher. A business manager should have a good sense of when the work expected overwhelms his/her workers’ abilities, for that is when function decays into dysfunction. When this happens, the solutions cannot be implemented only in the employee(s) or simply in management or infrastructure, but must be spread across the entire human spectrum of employment.
Mental Illness Is Expensive
Not only is mental illness expensive to an individual and our society in general, but it can significantly jeopardize the economy. Thus, when the workplace is jeopardized, it constitutes a fiscal emergency that requires an integrated approach of the medical, psychological, and public health experts that business managers should incorporate into their skillsets.
Warning Signals of Mental Illness in the Workplace
The word “disgruntled” has been overused in the workplace to become a cliché. It has been associated with rampages by workers who were unable to cope with the challenges that seem to mix badly with their personal lives. As disastrous as some episodes have been, there are more subtle changes that can be destructive to a group’s work, progress, and even work ethic. These subtle changes serve as warning signals:
One of the first signs of dysfunction in the workplace is miscommunication. Standardized directions being interpreted differently among persons can reflect under qualification, insufficient training, or distraction, and then lead to disagreement and discord. Certainly, being underqualified such that a task is beyond one’s capability can initiate a runaway, continuous frustration; likewise, if employees are asked to perform skilled tasks for which there has been little, no or insufficient training, they will fail; and distraction can result from environmental problems or an individual employee.
The workplace should be a stable environment that is conducive to the work required. When there is anger or depression for personal reasons in one worker or among several, this blurs the line between personal and business. For some, it becomes difficult to know when “personal” ends and “business” begins, and the individual’s two social systems clash, allowing personal (and inappropriate) emotional outbursts to occur in the workplace setting.
Changes in Productivity
Productivity in the workplace is tracked, so it is easy to notice when it begins a downward trend. After the obvious things have been corrected for, such as absenteeism, downsizing, or a rising overhead that affects the bottom line, what is left is the ability of the employees to carry out their obligations. If one or more of them cannot do this due to mental illness, the productivity—or lack thereof—will reflect this.
Increases in the Amount and Depth of Human Error
When the workplace deteriorates in either productivity, cohesiveness, harmony, or all of them, carelessness can follow the attitudes that usually accompany such deteriorations. When the environment becomes “toxic,” employees stop caring, become unmotivated, due diligence suffers, and errors increase.
Workplace Interrelationships—the Wildcards
When two persons become intimate and work in the same setting, emotional interactions impact their working relationship just as much as the demands of their work impact their personal relationship.
What Are Solutions to Mental Health Challenges the Business Manager Can Implement?
- Educate employees about mental health issues found in the workplace and their warning signals. There are many distribution outlets for this information, from the CDC to OSHA.
- Be receptive to suggestions for a better working environment and respect the need for communication, employees’ ability to participate in decisions, reasonable working hours, and fairness/equality.
- Educate employees about mental health issues that can follow an employee from the home to the workplace, such as financial crises or toxic relationships.
- Set up a support structure for employees who feel they could use some guidance during challenging times.
- Have routine mini-seminars on mental healthcare-related subjects, especially those that can be flashpoints for disruption, such as divorce, drug addiction and abuse, domestic violence, gender inequality, racism, homophobia, and cultural exclusion.
- Offer online mental health counseling to employees
Mental health is important wherever people come together because it is an all-for-one and one-for-all proposition. Everyone benefits from mental health in the workplace, from the W-2 employees and the 1099 contractors to upper management and the economy that relies on it.