Mental health issues are silently killing productivity in the workplace. Depression alone costs 400 million lost workdays every year in the U.S., according to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health program. That doesn’t even include stress disorders or anxiety, which are just as common. Considering the high cost to your company for letting these issues go untreated (such as increased healthcare costs, employee turnover, absenteeism, disability and presenteeism), a surprisingly large number of individuals are falling through the cracks. According to the Global Mental Health organization, around 50%.
We spoke with Dr. Ian Drever, (MB ChB, MRCPsych) a Consultant Psychiatrist working full time in the treatment of depression, anxiety and stress near London. He explains, “In my experience, managers can be very reluctant, and even extremely uncomfortable, discussing mental health issues with their colleagues. It’s an area in which they don’t feel equipped with the necessary skills. And yet, the essentials of recognizing emerging mental health needs in colleagues are often quite straightforward and solutions beneficial for both sides are readily available.”
So what can you personally do to create a more productive and healthier workplace? Mental health experts advise you, as a leader, to not be afraid to address the situation in an open and constructive way. They offer the following tips:
- Learn the most common signs and symptoms – There’s a big difference between a mental quirk (such as being a bit too attached to your desktop hand sanitizer) and a mental health issue. “It’s generally about recognizing ‘early warning signs’ of an illness creeping up such as poor memory or concentration, diminished energy levels or lack of social engagement, all of which can indicate that illnesses such as depression and anxiety may be brewing”, says Dr. Drever.
- Create a safe place for open dialogue – The reason mental health issues can end up costing so much time and money is because there is a stigma about discussing them openly. Break down that barrier. Let employees know that they are free to let you know what is really going on. Make yourself available and clear some time to talk to whoever needs it.
Dr. Drever adds, “By speaking openly with colleagues about how they’re feeling, and treating mental illness just as any other illness (which it is), I find that individuals are very willing to engage in a dialogue about what their needs are, and what sort of support would be of maximum benefit to them.”
- Share your own personal experiences – The best way to open up the dialogue is to get it started yourself. Employees may feel scared to disclose personal information, fearing it will affect your opinion of them or their job security. Some of the greatest leaders lead by example. Such as philanthropist Adam Shaw – who co-wrote the book “Pulling the trigger: OCD, Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Related Depression — The Definitive Survival and Recovery Approach.” Shaw was very open about his obsessive-compulsive disorder and discussed it freely with his staff.
- Offer assistance – As a manager you should be aware of your company’s offerings for mental health assistance. If not, find out what they are and stock up on business cards, pamphlets or any helpful information to share with your team. Getting them to talk about their issues with you is just the beginning, providing them the resources to seek treatment is the most important step. “Medical input from a specialist, or an occupational health provider, can also provide a valuable steer as to what can be done to maximize the recovery for the individual – and also highlight any reasonable adjustments which could be made in the workplace”, offers Dr. Drever. According to the Employer’s Health Coalition absence, disability and productivity loss as a result of depression cost employers more than 4X the cost of employee medical treatment – so it’s worth offering treatment.
- Promote mental health – Wouldn’t it be nice if our work atmosphere was conducive to maintaining mental health in the first place? This could – aside from offering treatment – deal with the preventative side such as promoting mental health awareness through seminars or brown bag lunches. Or perhaps when working with an employee with a condition, for example anxiety attacks, to create a plan that would allow them to improve their performance and add value to the workplace while avoiding their panic triggers. Lastly, maybe even allowing for a “mental health day off” as a preventative measure when the pressure is starting to build. All of these benefit the employees, yes, but also the organization – by creating a company culture that attracts and retains talent.
If 1 in 5 employees are affected by mental health (according to the National Health Alliance), then someone on your team is battling it right now. Make the effort to reach out. Whether it’s a quick coffee to ask how they are doing or a frank discussion about specific behavior that has you feeling concerned. Being a good leader means going out of your way to make sure every aspect – even the mental health – of your team is in top working order!
About the Author
Carol Peitzsch is a wordsmith specializing in marketing and branding text. With over 25 years experience in the corporate world – from Silicon Valley to Europe – she shares her knowledge through various media outlets and gives marketing lectures at the EU Business School in Munich.