Mental Health issues in the workplace - A business impediment

SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

While mental health problems affect many employees both in and outside the workplace, the unfortunate reality is that due to various stigmas associated with mental health issues, they are not acknowledged and dealt with in the workplace.

This is according to Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions, who notes that staff are left to bear the burden of mental health problems alone, which not only has an impact on their productivity, but also the culture and connectedness of the team which they operate in. 

“ *Considering that mental disorders account for 15% of the global burden of disease, coupled with the fact that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, mental wellness is certainly an issue that needs to be prioritised within the workplace,” says Vittee.

*In light of this, absenteeism currently costs the economy around R12-16 billion per annum. This simply highlights the importance of implementing measures to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental disorders.

Vittee advises that the following could be signs of underlying mental issues in the workplace:

  • An increase in absenteeism: It is very rare for staff to call in sick and openly cite depression or anxiety as a reason for not coming into work.
  • Conflict and grievances among employees: Ongoing conflict, grievances and complaints could be a sign of possible problems regarding workplace wellbeing.
  • Low company morale: Employees with mental health disorders may appear unmotivated and withdrawn. Even though they may always be present at work, it is likely that they are not performing optimally. 
  • Decreasing productivity: Low productivity can be deemed as a sign of an underlying issue, the cause of which could very well be attributed to mental wellbeing.
  • High staff turnover: This could be as a result of a negative organisational culture, uncompetitive pay and benefits, unrealistic job requirements, or poor mental wellbeing.

“When it comes to addressing mental health issues in the workplace, a good starting point would be eradicating any potential stigmas and opening the lines of communication,” she says.

“As an employer, you need to remain cognisant of the fact that most employees shy away from reporting mental health mental illness for fear of being judged as weak or incompetent.”

According to Vittee, some of the basics organisations should keep top of mind when dealing with mental wellbeing in the workplace, includes:

  • Improving awareness around the issue in a way that does not perpetuate the stigma, while educating the organisation as a whole about the importance of diagnosing and treating mental health problems.
  • Opening the lines of communication between the leadership team and the workforce to establish whether relationships and workloads could potentially be causing mental duress.
  •  Distributing an internal survey to assess the staff’s understanding of mental health and the current state of mental health in the organisation.
  • Introducing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) in the organisation to offer wellbeing related benefits such as counselling, debt management, legal advice, and support on emotional and work-life issues.

“Ultimately organisations need to recognise that, just like physical health, everyone goes through fluctuating levels of mental wellbeing,” concludes Vittee.