Employee mental health affects the workplace, and vice versa. Therefore, leaders and corporate leadershipmay need to take more affirmative action than they have previously, on mental health in the workplace
Employee mental health is on the increase throughout the world. So, much so that the World health Organisation has taken up this issue.
The WHO now states that this is a “human rights” issue.
The WHO research has indicated that mental health issues have contributed to:
- Poor health outcomes
- Premature death
- Human rights violations, and
- Global and national economic loss.
These issues obviously affect every corporation worldwide. They imply that leaders and corporate leadership need to take responsibility for the mental health of their employees.
The idea of the Special Initiative of the WHO Organisation for 2019 – 2023 is to influence leaders and corporate leadership to take on these extra responsibilities towards their employees. Almost like a name and shame game.
As a leader, this may be one of your biggest challenges this year.
The question needs to be asked: it is a leader’s responsibility or corporate leadership, to take overall responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their employees, both inside and outside of the workplace?
The debate could go either way.
Because the root causes of mental health issues arise out of early childhood environmental development issues, plus the influence of primary care givers during that time, and, from those adults who acted as role models of those children, during their formative years. (See The Ultimate Guide to Letting Go and Moving On– for a detailed description of this topic)
However, since employees spend up to half their day: at work, thinking about work, travelling to and from work, the effect work and the workplace environment has on their psyche, logically, would indicate that “yes”, employers do indeed, have a responsibility for the majority aspects of their employees’ mental health issues.
Even if you agree or disagree with this statement, do read on to gain a different perspective.
Click here for your PDF copy of the Employee Mental Health Issues – The Ultimate Guide
Table Of Contents
- Definitions of: Mental Health, Employee Mental Health, Leaders, Leadership and the Role of a Leader
- Mental Health Issues – What Are They?
- Specific Employee Mental Health Challenges for Leadership
- Solutions Now in Use and Why They Are Not Working
- Background to Possible New Solutions for Employee Mental Health Issues
- Possible New Solutions (Scientifically Researched and Proven) for Employee Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace
1. Definitions of: Mental Health, Employee Mental Health, Leaders, Leadership and the Role of a Leader
We always need a starting point. For me that has always been definitions, so that we are all coming from the same place. When you understand the basis of where someone iscoming from, then real discussion can take place.
To see a more detailed discussion of leaders and good leadership qualities, find that here in this article: The Ultimate Guide To Improving Leadership Qualities Through Empowerment (In 2019)
Here are some definitions:
Mental Health is an extremely difficult topic to tie down to one simple definition due to the fact that there are so many branches and types within those branches.
Mental Health Disorders as defined in Wikipedia: ” … are classified as a psychological condition marked primarily by sufficient disorganisation of personality, mind and emotions, to seriously impair the normal psychological, and often social functioning, of the individual.”
Wikipedia go on to state: “Individuals diagnosed with certain mental disorders are unable to function normally in society…. Mental disorders occasionally consist of a combination of affective, behavioural, cognitive and perceptual components.”
Employee mental health issues specifically relate to issues such as depression and anxiety, which, if present in the workplace, can significantly affect productive functioning in that workplace because primarily, a person’s focus, concentration, mood and behaviour has been comprised.
Also, too, within those broad workplace categories, certain behaviours such as:
- Sexual harassment
- Gender, religious and racial discrimination
- The “perceived” care factor or lack therefore by management
- Autonomy over job outcomes
- Excess time spent on the job/tasks, and others….
……all have an impact on the psyche of employees.
These types of environmental issues can lead to employees exhibiting either depression or anxiety symptoms.
(We will discuss those two issues shortly.)
A leader is someone who leads or commands the group, organisation or country.
Necessarily, it implies that the person who is at the front of the group has superior skills to do that job e.g. the choir master, the scout leader, the meditation facilitator.
This means that theoretically, anyone can be a leader, at a particular point in time, with the relevant and superior skills, and who wants to, or is willing to direct the group during some exercise.
Leadership is the action of leading the group. Guiding, giving direction. It is the state and art of being a leader. (Dictionary definition)
So, Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. This definition implies certain skills, talents and abilities and qualities.
(*For an interesting expose on leadership and the definitions see Kevin Kruse’s article.)
“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”Kruse states that:
You can see that this particular definition matches up with the commonly held dictionary definition above. However, it doesn’t imply responsibility for every aspect of an employee’s” wellbeing.
So, Leadership is the action of leading people in an organization towards achieving goals. Leaders do this by influencing employee behaviours in several ways. A leader sets a clear vision for the organization, motivates employees, guides employees through the work process and builds morale. It does not say anything about being responsible for employee mental health.
Commonly held views on the essential responsibilities of leadership include:
- Building trust….
- Communicating effectively. …
- Offering sufficient resources for employees to implement work tasks to engender autonomy …
- Building self-efficacy. …
- Holding team members accountable. …
- Conducting routine debriefings to enhance employee participation and performance.
So, you can see that nowhere does it say anything about employee mental health being a priority, nor a responsibility.
The literature does state that mental health and wellbeing of employees will be enhanced by good leadership. This also implies that self-esteem and confidence are enhanced by how employees are treated by leaders and management.
The commonly held view is that leaders do play a role in driving policies and procedures that promote mental health solutions for their employees. And. In effect, have a duty to promote activities that positively affect workplace culture, and the experience employees have in those environments.
However, the generally accepted literature does not support the notion that leaders, and the role and function of leadership, is to care for the mental health of their workers.
Yet, there is a call for leaders to create mentally healthy workplaces, which, in most cases they do, especially when workplace health and safety bodies implement laws and regulations, that companies need to follow, and impose sanctions and fines, if they don’t.
The sticking point is this: there is external pressure for leaders and corporate leadership to also be responsible for the lives and welfare of their employees, both at work and outside the workplace.
Is this a reasonable request?
Should leaders and corporate leadership be responsible for the lives and welfare of their employees, outside of their work environment, especially when we know that mental health issues arise from early childhood experiences, beliefs that they hold and the interpretations and strategies that the person has implemented during their lifetime, when they been garnered from their primary care givers?
It is a big call. One which the World Health Organisation has become involved in, and has now called on corporate leaders and leadership, to implement strategies to take on this responsibility.
This is a game-changer for leaders and corporate leadership.
This now means that a leader needs super-human powers to be a leader.
Where do you stand as a leader on these issues?
These issues need to be considered and discussed by leaders at every level.
2. Mental Health Issues – What Are They?
There is no clear definition of mental health per se.
However, mental health issues include: ‘psychological conditions that highlight a degree of misalignment of personality, mental and emotions, such that one’s normal and social functioning are impaired.’
The WHO talk about health rather than mental health:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, not merely the absence of disease.”
They go on to state that “people with mental health conditions experience widespread human rights violations, discrimination and stigma”.
The most common types of mental health issues, especially in the workplace are: depressive disorders and anxiety disorders.
Because these issues impact mood and feelings of affected persons, hence the mental aspects, they are labelled “mental health issues” or diseases.
Also included in mental health issues are: neurological and substance use disorders; suicide risk and associated psychological, cognitive and intellectual disabilities.
From the WHO research they go on to state that depression is a worldwide phenomenon, and that the risk of becoming depressed is increased by factors such as: poverty, unemployment, life events such as: death, breakups, illnesses, or drug and alcohol abuse.
So, you can see an underlying theme here: employees are being affected by:”life events” and are then abusing themselves with drugs and alcohol, etc. yet, leaders and corporate leadership are expected to take responsibility for the resulting mental health issues caused by such self-harm, and abuse.
This is a big call.
(We will look at depression and anxiety in more detail shortly).
At present the solution and therefore accepted approach, is via campaigns of awareness via information and education to employees.
The issue for co-workers and leaders is to be aware of the signs and symptoms of possible mental health issues. Here is a list:
- Feeling sad or down
- Having confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
- Having excessive worries or fear, or extreme feelings of guilt
- Withdrawing from friends and activities
- Having significant tiredness, fatigue, low energy or problems sleeping
- Having delusions – detachment from reality, paranoia or hallucinations
- The inability to cope with daily stress problems
- Having trouble understanding or relating to situations and people
- Substance or alcohol abuse to excess
- Major changes in eating habits
- Loss of sex drive
- Experiencing excessive anger, hostility or violence
- Having suicidal thoughts
These types of thoughts and feelings can manifest as physical problems such as: stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained health issues.
So, the process of complying with good business practices with respect to employee mental health tissues is via campaigns of awareness. This is a generally accepted approach. And most leaders follow this.
In fact, is there any other way than to make employees aware of what to look out for, so they can point the affected person/s in the right direction?
Realistically? Probably not.
For corporations to be considered a “good company” policies and procedures need to be actionable. They need to be something that can be ticked off, on a form, and be implemented easily. Having policies and procedures that are hard to qualify and quantify would make it difficult to comply.
Therefore, the general consensus for leadership world-wide, is to say that they are actually doing something about employee mental health, sothey adopt and implement information and awareness education campaigns, which is the generally accepted best practice.
Is this enough?
Now. Let’s look at the most commonly recognised forms of employee mental health, depression and anxiety in more detail, so you have a better understanding of what they are, and what you need to look out for.
From my observation and experience depression signifies that a person constantly goes back into the past and tries to relive and change the outcome. The types of words used include: “if only I had….” This keeps them stuck in the loop and further suppresses the truth coming out. The person will not be able to address the issues when this happens. In fact, they will be in a constant state of denial.
This creates a constant loop of disappointment, knowing that the situation cannot be changed, but still willing and wanting that situation to change.
This is what creates the loop. This is what creates the release of unhappy chemicals and hormones flooding the body/mind. When you keep doing that, the body/mind gets stuck in a synapse, that guarantees that you approach all stress or disappointments in a similar way. This then reinforces the feelings of depression and contributes to the person maintaining that position.
My experience is that when people become depressed, they try to alleviate those feelings and escape for a time. They may: smoke, drink alcohol, ingest a lot of sugar or take medication or drugs.
The initial high is short lived and if you are prone to being trapped in those depressive feelings, when the high wears off, the let-downs are worse. All of these antidotes are of a depressive nature and make depression worse.
Because the person is further supressing their feelings, not being able to express them, and the drugs, the addictive substances pushes those feelings down further.
So, in essence, depression is about suppression of expression of feelings. Not being able to express yourself at your core. You then lose touch with your soul, your inner core, your identity, who you are and this leads to a depletion of passion, and a loss of identity, and life purpose.
So, the key to alleviate depression, is to get to those issues that have initiated this non-expressive behaviour and eliminate that, so that healing can take place.
How do you do that?
You need a therapist who deals with releasing those types of hidden causes.
In organisations quite often, employees do not seek help. Why? Because employees do not trust management and they also fear being ostracised with the stigma of being diagnosed with a mental illness.
The interesting thing is that the observed behaviours that are exhibited from mental health issues, and those hidden underlying causes, could also stem from:
- Politic and environmental factors
- National policies
- Social protection
- Standards of living
- Working conditions
- Community support
- Perinatal infections
- Exposure to environment hazards
- Exposure to:
- Neglect abuse or poverty
This is an outrageous list of possible causes of mental health disorders for company leadership to become responsible for.
How can a company possibly be responsible for an employee’s reaction to any one of these things let alone a several of them?
What happened to personal responsibility?
Are we now breeding a fragile type of human?
Background to Mental Health Issues
Okay. So, if this list is to be taken seriously, there must be some hidden, underlying issue that is triggering a reaction to these personal or internal/external events.
What causes mental health issues?
From my observation and experience ALL of these types of issues can be caused by stress and can cause a stress reaction, a reaction that is visible mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually.
To my mind, closer attention needs to be paid to these internal triggers, otherwise, from the above extensive list, we are all in serious trouble. This means leadership now needs to address an individual’s external personal life for possible risk factors that may trigger stress issues.
In depressive disorders the biggest impact on the body/mind is on the mood or feelings of affected persons.
Depression can be short term, recurrent or become a long-term issue. The main point being that this disease can substantially impair a person’s ability to function at work or elsewhere, and impair their ability to cope with daily life.
Let’s now look at anxiety.
With anxiety, my observation and experience indicate, that this type of disorder stems from people trying to control every aspects of their lives. The more they try to control the more they see that needs controlling, and hence they become overwhelmed. The types of words used by an anxious person include: “what if this or that happens…”
Anxiety is a reaction to stress. It involves excessive fear about outcomes. Is it about anticipation of a future concern? It is associated with muscle tension and avoidance behaviour.
To be diagnosed with anxiety a fear must be out of proportion to the situation or age appropriate, and must hinder the person’s ability to function normally.
The most common type of anxiety in the workplace is: generalised anxiety disorder. It involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. This excessive worry can create these types of physical responses:
- Feeling on edge
- Easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Problems sleeping
The worries can be about anything e.g. job responsibility, family, health, car repairs, little things.
From my observation and experience an anxious person is someone who feels out of control and is hence constantly trying to control their environment. The more they try to control the more they see that is beyond their control.
The physical symptoms of anxiety could also include:
- Palpitations/pounding hear/rapid heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Feelings of shortness of breath/smothering sensation/choking
- Chest pains
- Feeling dizzy/light-headed or faint
- Feelings of numbness or tingling
- Chills or hot flashes
- Nausea or abdominal pains
- Feeling detached and fear of losing control
- Fear of dying… and so on
These types of thoughts and feelings can also manifest as physical problems such as: stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained health issues.
Long Term Effects of Mental Health Issues
The long term issues that may flow from having a mental health issue is that these can lead to a disability. It has been said that untreated mental illness can cause severe emotional, behavioural and physical health problems.
The types of complications that can arise from these untreated mental health issues include:
- Unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life
- Family conflicts
- Relationship difficulties
- Social isolation
- Continuing use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs
- Intermittent periods of missed attendance
- Isolation can lead top legal and financial problems
- They can lead to poverty and homelessness
- Having these issues can lead to self-harm and self-punishment, or to suicide or homicide
- Decreased immune function can lead to increased infections
- These issues can also lead to heart disease and other medical conditions
So, what is happening here is that there is combined pressure from various bodies such as: the American Psychiatric Association, various health authorities, and organisations such as WHO, who are demanding that leaders and corporate leadership, be more responsible for employee’s wellbeing both inside work and outside of the work place environment.
The question now is: Is that reasonable?
Are we creating a government- lead, socialist, nanny state approach to forcing companies to instigate something that is way beyond their control, their duties and roles and responsibilities and their capabilities?
3. Specific Employee Mental Health Challenges for Leadership
In“meddling” in corporate leadership issues by the WHO organisation in their special initiative, they have outlined their objectives for leaders to take in 2019 – 2023:
- To implement more effective leadership and governance for mental health of employees
- For companies/leaders to provide integrated mental health and social care services in community-based setting (does that mean that the expected provision is to go way beyond their workplaces?)
- To implement strategies for promotion and prevention of mental health issues, and
- To strengthen information systems, evidence and research around this topic.
This takes this topic to a whole new level of meaning, in that the WHO organisation is trying to make employers totally responsible for whole-of-life-effects on their employees and others!
I personally believe that this is an outrageous and ambitious plan. It is almost like a totally socialist plot to have more corporate and government intervention in the lives of the entire world population.
This implies that leaders and corporate leadership understand and actually have the qualifications and skills required, to prevent employee mental health issues.
In reality people do not understand where, why and how mental health issues arise.
WHO is saying that people are fragile and need to be taken care of. They are saying that people do not have to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing and that the government or similar organisations, will regulate to make sure that each person rescinds personal responsibility to their employer.
Hmm! I do not think that will hold water.
Ok. So that is the “big brother” approach.
What is a more sustainable approach as evidenced by business studies on real-world entities?
The Australian Psychological Society did a five-year studyfrom 2011 – 2015on the workplace and its’ effects on the mental health of employees. The three most relevant findings for this article, include:
- That 87% of Australian workers are depressed either, mild, medium or severe (this is acumulative figure)
- That 49% of workers indicated that they felt their employer did not care about their mental health; and wellbeing, and
- That 49% of workers felt that their employer did not value their contribution in the workplace.
Ok. So, you can see that if employees are not feeling “valued” or “respected and cared for” in any meaningful way, then necessarily they will start to feel depressed in some way.
The other interesting study completed in 2012 by Seek was that at any one time 87% of workers already employed, were looking for a new job. This implies massive unhappiness on some level, by the majority of workers.
Safe Work Australia’s study on Mental Health Costs on Australian Business indicates that is it costing Australian business over $10B per year, and that the highest claims were related to stress issues. They go on to say that mental health claims are the most expensive form of workers’ compensation claims.
Leading executive, Ms Sherry made this comment: “These findings highlight why it is necessary for employers to be aware of stress-related issues and improve current work practices to decrease unnecessary stress in the workplace.”
So, you can see here that the “real” cause, the major underlying issues resulting in employee mental health is: STRESS.
A further study by Andrew Noblet, 2017, Oxford University Press titled: Building Health Promoting Work Settings: Identifying the Relationship Between Work Characteristics and Occupational Stress in Australia, highlights this issue:
“Occupational stress is a serious threat to the health of individual workers, their families and the community at large. “
They go on to say: “Chronic occupational stress is regarded as both a serious public health concern and a major impediment to organisational success.”
For organisations, this occupational stress can contribute to a number of outcomes which are critical to organisational success, including:
- Labour turnover, and
- Job performance
Further results include:
- Lack of control over job/autonomy
- Lack of support from work sources, and
- Unrealistic deadlines
…. all of these were significant predictors of both psychological health and job dissatisfaction.
A Study by Medibank Private – August 2008 – titled: The Cost of Workplace Stress in Australia, concurred with the results above and added that 3.2 days per worker are lost each year through workplace stress.
And. That the number of stress related claims almost doubled between 1996 and 2004.
So, you can see from these few studies that there is a real workplace issue here, and that is:
Stress is the number one contributing factor to employee mental health issues in the workplace.
One of the issues around mental health that confound people is that they think that mental health issues suddenly appear out of nowhere. It does not spring out of nowhere. There are triggers. When the triggers and the resulting effects can no longer be ignored, the body/mind reacts physically, mentally and emotionally.
Because of this lack of understanding and acknowledgement that stress is the basis of ALL dis-ease and disease, (See the work ofeminent biologist: Dr Bruce Lipton, in The Biology of Belief, where he states that up to 95%of all disease is self-created. The other 5% you are born with.) leaders and corporate leadership are missing the point in trying to treat those mental health issues. Awareness programs and EAP’s are not the answer here – which we will discuss shortly!
This then means that you, the employee, create your own mental health issues due to the stress your body/mind is subjected to on a daily, and, on-going basis. And. That if you do not treat or release or deal with those stress trigger issues, and, the resulting outcomes on your body/mind, you will zoom on by to disease, in the long run.
So, if this is the case, and the evidence is in on stress, as the major contributor to employee mental health issues, why aren’t employers viewing mental health solutions from this different angle?
In summary: there are many studies world-wide that show that workers are suffering from stress-related issues. There does not appear to be general consensus that these stress issues are really mental health issues, couched in different words. The key for leaders is to be aware of these findings, and then implement strategies, to overcome these stress-related, mental health issues.
4. Solutions Now In Use and Why They Are Not Working
There are two process that leaders and corporate leadership have adopted in order to comply with basic good business practices, and, also, in order to comply with health and safety regulations, which are mandatory.
A. The first one is via awareness campaigns via information and education of employees.
Health providers, health bodies and organisations world-wide, have developed programs of awareness of the main mental health issues affecting employees in the workplace. Leaders and corporate leadership have tended to adopt these, readily.
These approaches generally come in three forms:
a. Firstly, by placing posters up in the workplace, informing employees of what signs and symptoms of common mental health issues to look out for, in co-workers. (They may also include other items such as: bullying, sexual and other harassment, or other health and safety issues. These are obligated by law.)
Also included might be: gender issues, racial and religious discrimination, domestic abuse and violence issues. Many of these issues remain “hidden” in workplaces, especially domestic abuse issues, because it is considered “too hard” to deal with. The statistics indicate that in the domestic abuse arena, 7 out of 100 people will be affected, either as an abuser or as a victim. There well may be an abuser as a leader, or in management, and this would make it extremely difficult for an employee to voice their opinion about that person.
b. Secondly, corporate leadership may engage a specialist speaker on topics such as: depression, anxiety, workplace culture and various aspects that affect that culture, and so on. These talks may be a one-off, or, via repeat sessions over time. And.
c. Thirdly, they may have online programs that employees are obligated to listen to, and to complete quizzes, in order to assess understanding of awareness of these various issues.
The questions here could be:
Are these approaches being assessed for effectiveness? Has anything changed in the workplace since adoption of these awareness programs? Have employees’ self- assessment increased – have they dobbed themselves in to management so that their personal situation can be further evaluated?
The answers: Probably not!
These approaches have not been thought through for effectiveness, only for efficiency. And. Quite frankly, leaders and corporate leadership do not have the skills necessary to take these issues further, to deal with them in any practical way. And. Why should they be placed in such an onerous position?
B. The second approach that leaders and corporate leadership take to improve the mental health issues of their employees, and, by default, help improve the overall productivity of their organisations, is by the implementation of EAP’s.
Many companies world-wide have adopted Employee Assessment Programs. These are online programs that employees use to self-assess their own mental health state. If an employee receives a positive result to questions and identifies a possible issue for themselves, they then have the option of contacting a counsellor, a psychiatrist, or some medical practitioner who is attached to that particular EAP program.
Theoretically, the self-assessment is confidential. The calls to outside help are also confidential. And, in most cases, the employer funds all of the resulting sessions.
If there is no improvement, the outside help may then send the employee on for further assessment. This may then involve a psychiatrist or a specialist psychologist, who may instigate talk therapies such as: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy alone, or in conjunction with medication, or not.
The type of medication can vary from mild through to anti-psychotic. The stronger and the longer term of the medication, the more likely that the patient will be considered as a “diagnosed” mental health prospect, and therefore needs to be registered, in some cases, permanently, on that register. (The register is about the type of drugs ingested, together with the type of diagnosis delivered.) Getting off that register can prove difficult.
Many employees are wary of these programs as they do not want to be labelled as having mental health issues. Nor do they want to be placed on a register. Nor do they want to take drugs, the side-effects of which, are mostly, worse than the disease.
Also, too, employees do not want to become trapped within the mental health system and be registered on some list whereby they have to take prescribed psychotic drugs, on an on-going basis, or forever. They also do not want to feel ostracised or victimised and have their employment options become limited
And. That is why employees are wary of these programs, even though a minimum of 26% of employees are severely depressed and the uptake of these EAP programs, hovers between 5 – 7 %. ( See this article re this issue: Loyal Employees Are Your Most Valuable Asset: The Keys to Capturing Sustainable Employee Engagementre this issue.
Here are some reasons that writers have highlighted on the non-uptake of EAP programs, even though they are FREE for employees:
The scepticism that arise from EAP type of programs include:
- Suspicion that they are not confidential
- The employees feel that there is stigma attached to reaching out for help
- They think they have to ask permission from their boss or HR
- Or, they do not know that these EAP’s exist, are available for all, and do not cost the employee anything
So, how do you overcome these fears?
- You educate employees that the information is confidential
- You normalise problems – everyone has issues
- You need to better inform employees that they do not need to ask the boss or HR to undertake an EAP, or the resulting external counselling available
So, you can see that even though there exist programs of awareness and EAP options for employees to self-assess, there is huge reluctance to take up these options.
The most interesting question is: why would that be so?
The answer will be somewhere in this idea: that employees’ motivations and inspiration may be more complicated than originally thought. Or, that leaders and corporate leadership is approaching this from the wrong angle.
In summary: The adopted methods of informing employees of options for identifying possible symptoms in co-workers, and the option to self- assess into an EAP program, may cover the organisation for basic good management practices. However, the evidence indicates that these options are not working.
The basis of all approaches to treatment of mental health issues is based on the notion that, without help, mental health issues will get worse. (Advice from the American Psychiatric Association)
From a personal perspective, I feel that leaders and corporate leadership do not have the necessary skills to deal with these issues more effectively than what they are doing at present. They can only adopt what they perceive as “good practices”, and/or practices that cover them for regulated health and safety issues. In the next section I will reveal a better, scientifically proven approach, that is all -inclusive, and that may well be the key here, to finding a workable solution.
5. Background to Possible New Solutions for Employee Mental Health Issues
As we learnt above, the World Health Organisation have taken up the mantle of mental health issues and have taken a “human rights” approach.
Their research indicated that mental health issues have contributed to: poor health outcomes; premature death, human rights violations and global and national economic loss.
This implies that, because of the “human rights” slant, corporations are, or should be, responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of their employees, for the whole of their lives, at work and outside of the workplace.
The WHO organisation is trying to persuade/shame, corporations to take up this “whole-of-life” approach to looking after their employees, and take responsibility for their overall health and wellbeing. Not just in the workplace, but in their everyday lives as well. (There are examples of Japanese workers who have worked their whole lives for one corporation. However, it is not a common practice in the Western world).
There are a number of issues that can thwart this “whole-of-life” approach:
- That employees in the Western world tend not to work for one organisation their wholes lives.
- That it is not generally known by the general population, where, why and how mental health issues arise, and people assume that it relates necessarily to the environmental and cultural aspects of a workplace. This is simply not true. Mental health issues don’t just suddenly arise. They result from unresolved stress issues and the basis of these issues is deeply embedded in early childhood issues. (We will discuss that shortly)
- Workplaces are generally not set up to take into account “whole-of-life” responsibility for the overall mental health and wellbeing of their employees, at work and outside of the workplace. This “big brother” approach is not conducive to Western democracies. People do not want more interference from government or corporations in their lives. They want autonomy, freedom and choice to live how they want;
- Is it the responsibility of a corporation to take away the responsibility from the employee/citizen, for running and directing their own lives?
- Why is this WHO organisation foisting this responsibility onto leaders and corporate leadership? Leaders simply do not have the skills to do this, nor should they have to be the “minder” for employees, for the whole of their lives.
- Employers should not be like a “life-learning” school. It takes away incentive, passion, motivation and inspiration of the person to be and take responsibility for their own lives. It also implies that workers will only have one choice of employer for their whole lives. Goodness! This is also self-restricting.
Okay. So, that is the solution offered by the WHO organisation and I have outlined what I perceive as threats to that position.
The practical implications of implementation of this scheme are beyond comprehension and goodluck with further discussion on that topic. Personally, I feel it is unrealistic.
So, having discussed the impossible, and alluded to earlier studies completed on the effects of workplace issues on mental health, we can see that stress is the basis of ALL mental health issues in the workplace. In fact, everywhere.
However, although there are factors within the workplace that can be identified as “contributing” to employee mental health issues, these alone are insufficient to attribute that, all of them, in totality, “cause” mental health issues.
Our society appears to be based on blame and finding a perpetrator and being a victim of some horrendous act. The general population appears to not want to take personal responsibility for anything and relegates this to other people, governments and anyone except themselves.
Issues within the workplace may contribute to mental health issues and exacerbate the stress felt by employees in certain situations. However, they are not the “real” cause of mental health issues.
Okay. So, if the workplace issues cause or exacerbate employees to be “more stressed”, and can/may increase/exacerbate employee mental health issues, what is the “real” issue here?
The “real” issue underlying ALL mental health issues, and which people need to be informed and educated about is, where, why and how people become stressed in the first place.
How people respond to stress and stressor triggers is via “learned” behaviour over a long period of time.
People have “trained” themselves to react and respond based on the perceptions and beliefs that they have grown up with. These patterns of response behaviour have been ingrained from early childhood, generally in the early formative years, from 0-6 years of age.
During that time children are downloading programs of survival. They are copying the behaviour of their primary care givers. They take on their beliefs. They form new ones. All types of behaviour in later life stems from this early childhood period.
Without going into this topic further you can read a detail description of stress and how this evolves, in this article:The Ultimate Guide To Letting Go And Moving On (In 2019)
So, that’s where your stress response habits and behaviours come from. Then, later in life, if you place yourself in environments that trigger some of those previously “learned” patterns of response behaviours, you will automatically, and unfortunately, think that this new environment is the problem. True. It may exacerbate it,but it is not the “cause” of your stress.
Example of workplace issues that might cause stress and lead to mental health issues
In the workplace it is not politically correct to tell your bosses what you think, nor how you feel, especially if you feel you are not coping. Why? Because if you do, you will be considered weak, ineffective or have some kind of stigma attached, especially if you acknowledge that you might be have feelings of depression or anxiousness.
The result? Suppression of expression. And. What does this lead to? Depression. When you are unable to express your opinions, your values, your ideas in safety, you suppress these thoughts. This will lead to dis-ease within the body/mind and eventually disease, if not treated appropriately.
For those who have a tendency towards anxiety, this will mean that you feel that you are unable to control various factors around you at work and therefore you will spend more and more time at work trying to keep on top of things, in order to hide those anxious feelings.
So, in both instances: anxiety and depression disorderscan arise in the workplace from those unexpressed emotions, feelings and opinions, or feelings of not being in control of outcomes. The disorders can lead to diseases, if they are not addressed.
So, in essence, the key to relieving employee mental health issues in the workplace, is to deal with the underlying issues that cause reactions to certain events. This is an individual thing, i.e. a person’s reaction to stressor triggers.
If this is the case, then it would be impossible to cater to everyone’s individual mental health needs, because their individual responses and reactions are all different.
Let’s now look at how to overcome this impasse of having to cater to everyone’s individual needs in order to resolve employee mental health issues in the workplace.
6. Possible New Solutions (Scientifically Researched and Proven) for Employee Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace
Practically everything we do every day is a habit. We may think we are making decisions and choices. However, our subconscious minds relegate daily task to this automatic response section of our brains. Why? Because these things are not creative nor do they involve any intuitive brain power. These daily tasks are boring.
Dr Bruce Lipton has researched this and indicates that up to 95% of all of our decisions everyday are not really decisions. They are reactions.
We get up every day and eat, shower, change, go to work, check emails, social media, have lunch, do some work and so on….
Most of our jobs we can do with our eyes closed as they have become robotic for our creative brains. We crave difference. We crave the opportunity to create somethings new and different. However, this does not happen on a daily basis, and this can lead to being stuck in a rut, and this leads to a kind of stress. A dulling down kind.
Charles Duhigg, in his trail-blazing work titled: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change gives us a way forward.
He describes a habit as having three components:
- A beginning
- A middle and
- An end
The beginning is a thought or feeling, an idea that we want to do or action we want to take. In the case of our workplace example, this would be ALL of the individual perceptions and beliefs of ALL of the individual employees. These are all of the stress triggers. Whew! Sounds too hard!
The middle is the way we process that stress – what actions we take physiologically when a stress trigger happens. What do we do? What specific action do we take?
The end, is the reward, after we have taken the action. This might be a feeling of accomplishment. Eating or drinking something. Instigation some other action.
Okay. So, if we want to change, we need to insert new habits, patterns of behaviour.
Now. You can try and change the beginning, ALL of the individual perceptions and beliefs of ALL of the individual employees. Is that possible? Will that work? No!
You can try and change the end, the rewards – however, each reward is also individual. One person may do drugs. the other alcohol. The other coffee or sweet things. The other might want to take a holiday. We have no idea how many rewards people might think of.
So, the only solution to changing a habit effectively, is to change the middle section – our behaviour. how we respond to stress.
(To find a detailed discussion on the techniques involved then see this article: 3 Empowering Self Care Tips For Beginners)
The question you might now be asking is this: do we ALL respond to stress the same way?
The answer is: Yes, physiologically speaking. You respond this way firstly, and then you might go and do some other thing. However, we ALL respond to stress, physiologically, the same way.
Okay. So, that is helpful news.
What that means is that we can instigate programs for employee mental health issues that address the stress behind those issues, without knowing ALL of the individual components of everyone’s beliefs and perceptions and life experiences.
As alluded to earlier, stress is the basis of all of our reactive thoughts, behaviours and emotions.
We now know that all dis-ease, disease and disruptions occur as a result of stress. If these stress issues are not resolved then minor disruptions can fester and turn into diseases, in this case mental health issues.
Why mental health disease?
Because these stress issues cause lack of focus, lack of concentration,restlessness, lack of self-esteem and confidence… and so the list goes on. All of these things affect the mind. Therefore, they are called: mental health issues.
From a practical point of view, a more acceptable way to address employee mental health in the workplace, is by addressing it from a stress reduction point of view.
Everyone is affected by stress. We learnt from the studies above that 87% employees were depressed to some degree.
So, what that means for the entire workforce, is, that, if leaders and corporate leadership instigate stress reduction programs for ALL employees, you will cover everyone, not just those who self-assess. It will be an inclusive approach because everyone will be treated the same. This means that those people who are experiencing depression or anxiety will not be singled out, nor will they have to self-confess. They will be lumped into the pool of stressed employees, and not singled out as those who are experiencing mental health issues.
How good is that?
An all-inclusive approach that covers everyone!Not only will this type of program address everyone’s stress issues, it will also address those with depression and anxiety because these issues have arisen due to unresolved stress, non-expression of emotions and opinions etc.
The question leaders and others might be asking at this stage is: are there programs out there that can actually do this?
Yes. There are programs that have been used world-wide for over 50 years, that have been researched and proven to work for thousands of people, with terrific results.
Some of the results of these programs include:
- Reducing depression by up to 60%
- Decreasing fatigue by up to 50%
- Decreasing anxiety by up to 46%
…. And many more.
Contact Celine for more information on how this works.
In summary: the new perspective is to view employee mental health issues as stress-based issues, which they are. Studies have indicated that 87% of employees are depressed (or anxious), So, the better option could be to offer a more inclusive approach, instigating company-wide stress reduction programs to deal with the many kinds of mental health problems employees may have. This in turn would deal with depression and anxiety, by default.
Where to Now
The significance of the impact of employee mental health issues within the workplace cannot be denied.
Some leaders have struggled with these issues for some time, not knowing when or if they need to become more involved, and possibly offer different solutions.
As a leader do you continue to follow the herd and simply stay with the accepted EAP Solution – which does not appear to be delivering what was expected?
Do you dare take a different path?
Known, scientifically researched and proven solutions are available.
As a leader, what will you do differently this year to help alleviate employee mental health in your workplace?
You can contact me here to discuss this pressing issue.
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About the Author: Celine Healy is a Writer, Speaker and Blogger, and is a Stress and Wellness specialist. She is passionate about mental health in corporations and overall wellness for individuals. Celine writes on topics of Stress, Leadership and Corporate Wellness, Mental Health, and Wellness Strategies for Individuals. Take the Quiz at my Blog, http://leadershipandcorporatewellness.com.au/ to see how your leadership rates with staff.