July 19, 2016    4 minute read

The Mentally Damaging Workplace

The Unspoken Truth    July 19, 2016    4 minute read

The Mentally Damaging Workplace

UK employers pay £2.8bn a year in work-related injuries claims. At the same time, £30bn a year is wasted on lost production, recruitment and absence due to mental health issues. Health and safety inductions are a bore for many of us, not to mention the endless “no win, no fee” injury adverts on daytime television reminding everyone that there is a voice for that pesky physical injury in the workplace. But one in four people will suffer mental health problems during their lives, and yet the voice for mental ‘injury’ in the workplace is somewhat muted.

The reason? Twofold. The apparent unwanted stigma attached to the issue is certainly a leading factor. Also, employers may not see this as a serious cause for concern and employees may feel it is a sign of weakness. In fact, 16% of people believe that poor mental health is related to a lack of self-discipline. But the ultimate truth is obvious and slightly dark: people do not know they are suffering from it. Anxiety and stress may very well appear to be part and parcel of the job, but both are forms of mental illness. Notoriously stressful jobs, from teaching and investment banking to piloting and consulting, may indeed expose more individuals to mental health problems than some other roles on the whole. But a task within any working environment that gives the individual more pressure than they can humanly cope with is asking for trouble.

The Most Dangerous Sectors

The financial services industry is perhaps one of the hardest hit, with a third of workers experiencing mental health issues at some point in their career. While the majority of those pursuing these jobs are well aware that they are not the traditional 9-5, they are still eager to be part of the ‘big boys’, from analyst to executive level. Whether this is for the attractive monetary reward or because of a genuine passion for global markets (or indeed both) depends entirely on the individual. But surely the risk of having a lifestyle where the individual is trapped battling with their own brain should be addressed more sincerely?

16% of people believe that poor mental health relates to a lack of self-discipline

Keeping the work and personal life separate is often not feasible – yet another one of the working world’s unspoken truths. The prevailing influence of capitalism should not be imposing on people’s health, but it does. So if the employee doesn’t acknowledge a mental health problem unravelling, who should? Should HR departments incorporate some mental healthcare initiatives? Should the corporate values place more emphasis on employee wellbeing? Or, at the very least, should managers be using their position to protect those who work for them? Communication is a basic tool for effective management, and a pretty paycheck isn’t the be-all-and-end-all to staff retention – showing an interest in your colleagues may prove to be more intrinsically satisfying than one may think.

A Good Investment

The Centre for Mental Health estimates that employers should be able to cut the cost of mental health (in lost production and replacing staff) by about a third by improving their management of mental health at work. Successful implementation will certainly lead to prosperous returns. Health journals worldwide express concern for this area and have suggested a solution that the healthy human being should probably be incorporating into their lifestyle anyway – aerobic exercise. Jogging, swimming, cycling or even walking have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. How hard is it to actively promote that reduced gym package they already offer to employees?

The purpose of this article is not to earn a few brownie points for medical research, but more so a plea for employers and employees alike to be more vigorous in their efforts to promote the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace. Productivity levels may rise, absences may decrease, but above all, a mind could be unshackled from itself. The process of ignoring mental illness could almost be depicted as leaving an infected wound untreated: the results could be far more traumatic to one’s colleagues and business.

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