The burden of mental illness on productivity has long been underestimated, and with the rise in mental breakdowns, we thought to shed some light on ways to make the environment conducive for everyone – Case in study; Workplace.
According to a WHO, employment provides categories of psychological experience that promote mental well-being, they include:
- A time structure – The structure helps ease some burden, especially the ones that stem from idleness and uncertainty
- Social contact – It provides some form of socializing outside the family.
- Social identity – Provides a platform for identity formation
So, contrary to popular opinion, being engaged, being employed or basically having something to do every other day, improves mental health, so this article is to help you see the need to promote a safe working environment for the mentally ill, either in the capacity of an employer or a colleague.
I feel like your eyes just widened at the thought of working with a mentally ill person, well, why not? #stopthestigma.
Possible mental health hazards to assess
Stress is a major contributing factor to mental health issues in the workplace. These are the risk factors:
- high demand (work overload)
- low support from co-workers and supervisors
- lack of control
- poorly defined roles
- poorly managed relationships and conflict
- poor change participation
- lack of recognition and reward
- organisational injustice.
It cannot be over-emphasized that bullying and harassment in the workplace can greatly affect a person’s mental health. Bullying and harassment can take the form of:
- abusive behaviour or language
- unfair or excessive criticism
- purposely ignoring the worker’s point of view
- tactless remarks or actions which put down the person
- malicious rumours.
Flexible workplace practices and Mental health
Examples of flexible workplace practices include:
- variable start and finish times and days worked, provided the core business hours and overall fortnightly or monthly hours are worked and essential business needs are met
- working from home, as long as the allocated tasks are met and core meetings and events are attended
- ability to work part-time
- discretionary leave where additional sick leave provisions are made available to the worker
- being willing to change work tasks, demands and timeframes
- designing jobs to include where possible variation and flexibility to reduce repetitive and monotonous work
- allowing workers to arrange their work so they are able to regulate their tasks to meet work demands.
Having a range of flexible work practices can result in:
- improving your ability to attract skilled and motivated workers
- recognition as an ’employer of choice’ with a competitive edge in recruiting
- creating greater staff loyalty and higher return on training investment
- increased trust and respect
- minimised stress levels and improved morale and commitment
- a better match between peaks and troughs in workloads and staffing
- minimised absence from work and staff turnover
- increased management skills and finding creative ways to work
- improved productivity
- potential for improved OHS performance
- enhanced compliance with discrimination and workplace relations laws
Safe and healthy work conditions
Safe and healthy work conditions is beneficiary toall workers and it minimizes the risk of or aggravation of mental illness in the workplace. Some examples include:
- regular rest breaks
- limits on overtime or workload
- breaks between shifts
- flexible work hours, such as time off in-lieu, ability to swap shifts or rostered days off
- ability to work part-time
- study leave or professional development
- effective grievance and conflict resolution procedures
- workplace change consultation provisions.
Now let’s address some myths about mental illness and the workplace.
Mental illness and mental retardation (Intellectual disability) are the same:
Mental illness and mental retardation refer to two different concepts with marked differences between them. These two terms should not be used interchangeably. Mental illness is a mental health condition that disrupts the behaviour, thoughts, and emotions of an individual. mental retardation on the other hand is a condition where an individual has a lower IQ and has difficulty in coping with the realities of a day to day life. It is mainly characterized by a limitation in intellectual functioning, which may cause difficulties with certain daily living skills.
Recovery from mental illness is impossible
For so long, mental illness was thought to be permanent and ‘untreatable’, but over time, studies have proven that the people with mental illnesses can show genuine improvement over time and lead stable, productive lives. This is leading to a gradual evolution towards the provision of treatment and rehabilitation services in some communities.
People with psychiatric disabilities cannot tolerate stress on the job
The complex human response to stress cannot be limited to mentally ill people. Yes, people with medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, asthma, or psychiatric disorders, may find their symptoms triggered by high levels of stress. However, the cause and impact of this stress varies per individual. Some people thrive under pressure, some don’t. Some people are comfortable with a structured work schedule, some are not. Some jobs are stressful to some extent but effective productivity is achieved when there is a balance between an employer and the working conditions.
- Symptoms of mental health disorders may be different at work than in other situations.
- Although these disorders may cause absenteeism, the biggest impact is in lost productivity.
- Studies suggest that treatment improves work performance, but is not a quick fix.
In as much as we don’t want to stigmatize anyone by treating them differently, we can create a safe work space for the mentally ill by being open minded and in-the-know. Here’s how:
As an employer, while bearing in mind that a healthy work-space will increase productivity, you can:
- Provide on-site, or telephone counselling for psychological symptoms or mental health disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety etc.); marital or family-related issues; legal and financial problems; catastrophic medical problems (e.g. AIDS, cancer).
- Improve ergonomics
- Have HMO packages with mental health options
- Address stigma through multi-channel communication
- Maintain a business focus at all times
As a colleague: While bearing in mind that anyone can be vulnerable, It is your:
- Duty to be informed, and learn the right information about these illnesses, so you can use the right terminologies if need be, and have a better understanding of different situations.
- Duty to be open minded and accommodating.
- Duty to avoid and/or try to prevent situations of stigma or ridicule.
- Duty to inquire and ask questions.
- Duty to be prepared to help, at any time.
Finally, we’ve established how the impact of mental health problems in the workplace has serious consequences not only for the individual, or colleagues, but also for the productivity of the enterprise.
So, in a world where you can be anything, be accommodating, be kind.