Mental Health and Employment

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With mental illnesses like depression and anxiety on the rise, what can businesses do to retain staff?

Depression costs the US economy as much as $50 billion every year in loss of production, and the race is truly on to tackle mental health in the workplace.

There is good reason for the government to be concerned by the rising cases of depression, anxiety, and other mental health factors. The WHO reports that 15% of working age adults are living with mental health problems. It might come down to money for businesses, but the problem is much deeper. So, what can be done?

Prevention is Better than Cure

Containing the issue of mental health absenteeism begins long before an employee goes off sick. It can often be issues within the workplace that detrimentally affects a person’s mental health, so tackling attitudes in the workplace should be the first port of call.

Listening to staff, tackling inequality, challenging discrimination, being realistic about workloads, and giving staff access to more support are all areas to start. But as any leader of an organization will attest, changing workplace culture can be an almost impossible task.

But if the 2020 global Covid 19 pandemic has revealed anything, it’s that companies were drastically underprepared not so much for the physical toll, which affected everyone, but on the psychological toll. With reports of a 25% increase in staff reporting anxiety and depression, it’s clear that mental health is an issue that has been bubbling under the surface for many years, and which the pandemic brought to light.

Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health

Companies and even employees themselves have long been stuck in a cycle when it comes to mental illness. The stigma surrounding a whole variety of conditions that unfortunately get lumped under one ‘mental health’ banner mean companies are reticent to hire those with diagnoses, and therefore such people are afraid to apply for jobs, and so the cycle continues.

A lot can be said for those companies who take a chance on people they know struggle with mental health problems. By giving work to such sufferers, their confidence and health can greatly improve, thus kickstarting a new cycle, one of acceptance, support, and prevention of relapse.

However, the entire world is lacking in workplace programs that focus on promoting a positive attitude toward mental health, and on encouraging those who struggle with it maintain a presence in the workplace.

The argument will forever be that governments need to do more, but companies can take the initiative in creating some of their own, science-based programs and leading the way in both tackling negative behaviors and fostering positive ones.

Achievable Workplace Initiatives

The new initiatives don’t have to be large ones. Even the smallest adjustments can make a huge difference in improving workplace culture. These include:

  • Encouraging Certainty – A lot of stress comes from the unknown, from those moments of uncertainty that allow the mind to wander. When there’s a meeting planned, give a definite time, a place, and the reason for the meeting. When there’s less uncertainty, there’s less room uncertainty-related stress.
  • Setting Clear Goals – Having something to work toward is a trait humans are programmed to strive for, so employees who feel they come to work only to repeat the same actions with no reward will naturally be at risk of feeling low in their jobs. Bite-sized, reachable goals, clear pathways, and a sense of reward at the end will all help encourage and empower staff.
  • Encourage More Teamwork – While the job to which we devote so many of our waking hours should be something that gives us purpose, often it’s colleagues and workmates who give us the boost we need during the day. Encouraging staff to take wellness breaks with one another, organizing bonding sessions both in and out of work, and promoting a feeling of common goals can boost morale more than any expensive program ever could.

With the cost of living being higher than ever, companies cannot afford to deal with high staff turnover and absence. By making the workplace a better place to be, more people will feel supported in their jobs and will not only want to come to work but will find that it’s a place of support for when they need it.

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