The CIPD and UK mental health charity Mind issued a new resource this week, the People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health, to help managers better identify and address mental health issues in the workplace, People Management reported on Wednesday:
Among the publication’s suggestions were using regular catch-ups and supervised meetings to monitor staff wellbeing and being alert to potential workplace triggers for distress, such as long hours or unmanageable workloads. The report also recommended businesses work to address the stigma still attached to mental health and encourage people to talk openly about their needs. The publication stressed that managers must be prepared to broach important dialogues and offer support. …
Following a disclosure of mental ill-health at work, managers should be prepared to make reasonable adjustments – such as relaxing requirements to work set hours in favour of flexible working, giving employees time off for appointments related to their mental health, such as therapy or counselling, and increasing one-to-one supervisions with staff.
The guide is written for readers in the UK and refers to some laws, regulations, and conventions specific to that country, but the bulk of its advice is applicable to managers anywhere. Research conducted last year by the UK health provider Bupa found that more than one in three line managers would have difficulty identifying mental health problems among their staff, while 30 per cent would not know what to do if a member of their team had a mental health problem.
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In commemoration of World Mental Health Day, observed each year on October 10, several UK organizations have published new studies examining the mental health of the British workforce. Sara Bean at Workplace Insight takes a look at one, which paints a dismal picture of employees’ comfort with talking about stress and mental health issues in the workplace, even though such issues are widespread:
Almost half of UK workers (44 percent) know a colleague who has had to give up work because of stress, while more than a third of people (36 percent) say that colleagues have complained about feeling stressed to their employer, but received no support. As a result, most people (56 percent) don’t feel comfortable talking about depression or stress in the workplace. The fourth annual Employee Insight Report from Capita Employee Benefits, released to coincide with World Mental Health Day today (October 10) suggests that stigmas remain and companies should be doing more to encourage their workers to open up about mental health issues. The findings reveal that just 33 percent would feel comfortable talking to their employer if they have a mental health issue, like depression; 75 percent of respondents said they have felt stressed at work over the last 12 months but only 20 percent have taken time off work because of stress.
Last week, the UK charity Business in the Community and YouGov released a major report on mental health in the workplace, the findings of which are similarly troubling: 77 percent of UK employees said they had experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives and 29 percent had been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Additionally, 62 percent of employees attributed their mental health symptoms to work or said work was a contributing factor, but only 11 percent had discussed a recent mental health problem with their line manager. Most managers, for their part, feel responsible for promoting employee wellbeing, but only 22 percent had received training on mental health at work.
Geoff McDonald, a former global VP of HR at Unilever who has had his own struggles with depression and anxiety, describes in Personnel Today how he responded, after a friend of his, who had hidden his mental illness extremely well out of fear of stigma, committed suicide. “The evening of the day he died,” McDonald writes, “I made a commitment to myself: to go out into the world and help break the stigma around mental health, and to give people the choice to talk about their illness”:
In mid-2013, thanks in large to my friend Alastair Campbell (the journalist and former adviser to Tony Blair, who has written candidly about his own battles with depression), I decided to address the issue of stigma within Unilever. The impact was amazing. Very quickly I saw a 12-fold increase in people reaching out for help. I knew I was helping give people at Unilever who were suffering a choice, and thus saving lives. So I decided to go out into the world and help other organisations address stigmatisation in their culture.
I have learned that CEO support is absolutely critical, but I am often frustrated by a “tick-box” approach to mental health that prevails in many organisations, with limited visible support from senior leaders. …
The phenomenon of “workaholism” or compulsive work is not a recognized medical condition, nor is it well understood, but a new study out of Norway sheds some additional light on it. Like other forms of addiction, the Norwegian researchers found, workaholism “is closely associated with a range of mental diseases and psychiatric disorders,” Mark Eltringham reports at Workplace Insight:
Although the link has been the subject of speculation and study, the authors claim that the new research is one of the few large scale, academic studies into the subject and so comes up with unequivocal results. The study of 16,426 Norwegian subjects in The Relationships between Workaholism and Symptoms of Psychiatric Disorders found that workaholism is significantly related to psychiatric conditions such as adult ADHD, OCD, clinical anxiety and depression. The web-based survey assessed the mental health and workaholic characteristics of subjects and used statistical analysis to establish a correlation. It concludes that while disorders can be put in part down to demographic and other factors, the ‘correlations between workaholism and all psychiatric disorder symptoms were positive and significant’.
At Fortune, Katherine Reynolds Lewis explores the rising rates of mental health issues among millennials, noting that as many as one-half of young people suffer from an anxiety disorder, a behavioral disorder, or a substance use disorder. She looks into how we know this is true and addresses what it means for employers:
Some skeptics say the high rates of diagnoses merely represent a better understanding of mental illness than in past generations, or perhaps even over-diagnosis. So psychologist Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, compared answers over time on four psychological surveys that a total of 6.9 million Americans completed. Looking at specific questions related to depression, anxiety, and attention problems, she found dramatic increases in self-reported problems over the past 20 years. For example, she found more than twice as many teens said they had trouble sleeping and thinking clearly in 2012-2014 compared to those who said the same in 1982-1984.
“This is more of a problem than it used to be,” Twenge says, adding that the slower economic recovery among young people has compounded the problem. The unemployment rate for Americans aged 20 to 24 is at 8.4%, compared to 5% for the overall U.S. population. “There’s still a lot of wasted talent out there. Some is the slow recovery, but it’s also a lot of young people either having issues or waiting for that so-called perfect job that’s never going to come.”
Twenge recommends that employers make sure their health care plans make it easy for employees to access mental health services and prescriptions, especially when considering that it can take up to three months for someone to get an initial psychiatrist appointment.
Update: Our own Adam Brinegar comments:
I think one implication is just that the rising generation is more fluent in mental health concepts and vocabulary than their elders. Managers need to anticipate that younger employees may be more likely to talk about issues like anxiety and depression or to ask for days off for mental illnesses, and they need to be prepared to navigate those conversations.
A recent study suggests that burnout may be more closely tied to clinical depression than previously thought. The Wall Street Journal’s Ann Lukits reports that researchers from the City College of New York and the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, screened over 1,300 teachers of similar ages and work histories and found that those who suffered from burnout also showed signs of depression:
Of the subjects, 10% of women and 7% of men were classified as cases of burnout, while 10% of both sexes were considered probable cases of major depression. Among those with burnout, severe depressive symptoms were reported by 50% of men and 38.2% of women, and moderately severe by 22.7% and 36.3%, respectively. None of the subjects with burnout was free of depressive symptoms.
Here’s what I think is interesting about this: Burnout levels among employees are rising, and this research suggests that it takes a much greater toll on employees than we think, psychologically. I do think it’s something that heads of HR need to pay attention to in order to have a productive workforce that can effectively handle a more variable work environment.
Why is burnout rising? A couple of reasons: