Workplace Mental Health Problems - Causes And Solutions
Our recent Mental Health in the Workplace Report revealed that more than four in ten employees have suffered from stress. Find out about the key causes of workplace mental health problems and some suggestions on how you as an employer can combat these.
What causes mental health problems in the workplace?
Mental illness at work through increased workload
Of the employees we spoke to, increased workload was by far the biggest cause of mental health issues in the workplace with almost four in ten naming it as the leading cause. With many employees wanting to do the best job they can and feeling an obligation to try and complete all the work assigned, its not uncommon that this leads to employees burning out. As an employer, it is important to find a balance between delivering the best results and the wellbeing of your staff. Unmanageable workloads not only impacts your staff in the office, but also at home as many will take unfinished projects to complete after working hours.
Potential side effects of excessive workload
• Home life conflict - unmanageable workloads not only impacts your staff in the office, but also at home as many will take unfinished projects to complete after working hours. The inability to switch off can negatively impact on relationships and some employees may feel they need to prioritise their workload first over family life. This can lead to increased stress and anxiety can make it hard for your team to maintain concentration and motivation which in turn can impact productivity.
• Health problems - large workloads can in turn cause high levels of stress. When stressed, employees normal routines can become of second importance and day-to-day healthy activities and actions can be easily forgotten. For example, an employee who normally takes time for a 30 minute gym session each lunch time might decide that it is necessary to forgo this in order to meet a strict deadline. Or an employee who normally has time in the evening to prepare a healthy lunch for the next day, may either grab a less healthy sugary snack or ready meal if their home life is overtaken by work. Lack of exercise, poor diet and high levels of stress can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain and generally an unhealthy lifestyle.
• Employee burnout - even the most efficient and hard work employees have a limit to what they can achieve in a given period. With many people driven forward by the next promotion opportunity or a desire to please their manager, it can often be very difficult to decline the extra piece of work that gets dropped on their desk. However, late nights and pressure coming from every direction, can lead to some employees to become either mentally, emotionally or physically exhausted. This can lead to higher levels of absenteeism, accidents, and a lack of concentration.
The Mental Health Foundation agrees excessive workload can affect employee mental health:
“The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.”
How to support staff with a large workload
Your staff's wellness should be your top priority and if you feel that someone is suffering with mental health problems associated to their workload, there are some things that you can do:
• Time management training - Some people are naturally more organised and adept at managing their time them others. Offer training to those who would benefit from it or encourage colleagues to share strategies amongst themselves.
• Implement morning briefings - Having clear priorities is a big part of effectively managing workload. Implement a short morning briefing (split into departments if your organisation is large) which allows each staff member to discuss their priority for the day. This allows the manager to have an overview of what is getting done each day and to change the course immediately if necessary.
• Offer quiet areas - Many people (particularly introverts) cannot focus and get work done in a busy, loud environment. Make sure you have at least one silent space where employees can get their head down and crack on without being interrupted. If you don’t have such a space, consider allowing your employees to work from home when they need to conduct deep work.
• Use task management software - If you don’t already, start using a task management system so that projects and individual tasks can be tracked. This allows everyone an overview and can ensure that tasks get completed on time.
• Make them feel valued – there’s only one thing worse than managing the stress of a seemingly never-ending workload – and that’s working all hours for it not to be appreciated. If employees’ feel that going the extra mile is being noticed and rewarded it can go a long way to turn stress into satisfaction. Remember therefore to recognise and praise employees if they’ve gone above and beyond on a particular job, or if they’ve been putting in extra effort and hours.
Financial concerns and mental illness at work
Nearly two in ten employees we spoke to said financial concerns were the leading cause of mental health issues.
It’s not surprising that many employees are stressed about money; the average UK household owes £12,887, before taking their mortgage into account. And debt which is not secured against underlying assets, also known as unsecured debt, as a percentage of household income has reached 27.4%, which is the highest figure in eight years.
Potential impact of financial difficulties for your staff
• Insomnia – the worry of money is something that everyone will experience at some point. However, for some, the fear of the next bill or an overdue statement can lead to many sleepless nights. With extreme lack of sleep, the body’s immune system becomes less effective, leading to increased risk of illness and absenteeism.
• Behavioural Changes – Financial challenges can lead to increased stress levels which can cause your staff to potentially turn to unhealthy substances to try and deal with these situations. More frequent smoking or heavy drinking not only have a negative effect on their health, but can worsen their financial situation, potentially making the problem worse.
• Anxiety and stress - The NHS states that feeling low or anxious is a normal response to struggling with debt. And Mind is keen to point out the catch 22 situation: “Money and mental health are often linked. Poor mental health can make managing money harder and worrying about money can make your mental health worse.”
How to support your staff if you believe they are struggling from financial difficulties
It is important to remember that your staff may be embarrassed around their financial situation so any conversations should be approached with care and consideration of the employee. However there are some more practical steps you can take as an employer to help your employees’ financial situation
• Pay them on time - it goes without saying that this will help employees manage their finances. While most businesses always pay on time as a matter of principal, it should be every businesses priority.
• Offer support - provide your employees access to an Employee Assistance Programme specialising in finances. They will be able to help recommend relevant resources on everything from debt management to financial assistance.
• Affordable loans - it is often cheaper to pay for big ticket items upfront rather than spread the costs out. For example, if an employee needs to purchase an annual train ticket you could pay the lump sum and they could pay you back each month.
• Offer the opportunity to work from home- commuting is expensive and time-consuming. Free up your employees time and money by offering the option to work from home for a day or two each week.
• Training and education - budgeting, managing debts and generally getting to grip with finances are skills which some people are yet to develop. You can encourage your staff to better understand their finances by providing them with training opportunities. From an online ‘fitness wellness’ course to a financial management workshop, there are plenty of training options you can use to support your workforce.
• Pensions - while auto-enrolment is helping to encourage employees to plan for their future, it’s estimated that between 8 – 10% of employees are choosing to opt out. You could help your workforce understand the importance of planning for their financial future by running a Q&A session with them (and allowing answers to be submitted anonymously beforehand to avoid any embarrassment).
Find out how our business health and wellbeing services could support both your business and employees here.
Workplace bullying and mental health disease - what's the link?
Almost one in ten employees said workplace bullying was the number one cause of workplace mental health issues. Bullying can have devastating consequences; the Workplace Bullying Institute states that victims can suffer from a whole host of very serious mental health issues including anxiety, panic attacks, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Unfortunately, workplace bullying is commonplace with some estimates of those affected as high as 75%. Bullying is clearly bad news for employee wellbeing, but it also costs business money too. It’s estimated by ACAS that bullying-related absence, staff turnover and productivity costs businesses around £18 billion a year.
Potential impact of workplace bullying on your staff
• Health risks – For staff who are being bullied from their co workers are at risk of experiencing both psychological and physical effects. These could include stress, anxiety, high blood pressure and panic attacks but more severe conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder have been associated with workplace bullying.
• Negative impact on productivity – Workplace bullying can undermine the confidence in your staff. This can lead to lower self-esteem, and an in-ability to work as effectively which can lead to lower productivity. Staff who are bullied in the workplace may be distracted with attempting to resolve the situation with the colleague than carrying out their roles effectively.
• Corporate reputation – As a leader of an organisation, it is also important to understand the impact that workplace bullying has on your external reputation. Unhappy employees who feel that they have to leave because the situation becomes too unmanageable can turn to websites such as Glassdoor.co.uk to talk about their experiences of working in your company. This not only can detract future talent from considering your organisation, but also send a message to other organisations around your workplace standards.
How to support a team member you believe to be suffering from workplace bullying
Regardless of whether you are a manager or a director, it is important that you demonstrate the right examples when it comes to workplace behaviour. Here are some strategies you can use to put an end to current workplace bullying and stop it happening in the future:
• Lead by example – demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach to bullying by having senior team members set the standards and any issues identified and dealt with. If bullying behaviour is unacceptable at the top level this should help establish an anti-bullying culture throughout the business.
• Write a formal anti-bullying policy – make it crystal clear that bullying isn’t acceptable by writing out a formal policy and circulating it amongst staff. Include relevant procedures, expected standards and the consequences of bullying. And then stick to it.
• Raise awareness – show your commitment to creating an anti-bullying culture by raising awareness about the issue. This could be achieved through your workplace newsletter or hosting an anti-bullying event.
An increased workload leads to higher stress levels which can result in burning out. Serious financial concerns can threaten an employee’s basic needs and leave them sleepless with worry. And workplace bullying can leave the victim dealing with all sorts of complicated mental health issues.
Of course, these are only the top three causes of mental health issues in the workplace. In reality, it is often a combination of issues which take their toll on employee mental health. As such, a more holistic approach to managing employee mental health is required and the first step you can take is to create a clear policy on the topic. This will go a long way towards establishing an ongoing culture of openness around mental health.
As our report shows, currently less than one in ten employees suffering from a mental health condition would confide in their employer. To address this, employers need to make it clear that discussing mental health is important and nothing to be ashamed of. Managers should communicate that talking about mental health will lead to support and not discrimination. This could be achieved through normalising conversation around mental health in the workplace and actively encouraging discussion.
Benenden Health for Business