Spotlight on mental health in the workplace helpful but…
Authors: The Work Foundation
15 July 2010
An article in the 8 July issue of The Economist highlights the increased focus employers are paying to the psychological wellbeing of workers. One of the reasons for this increased attention may be that the WHO predicts that depression will be the biggest health burden globally by the year 2030. The organisations that are working to address mental health conditions are doing so for good reasons, early intervention can reduce the impact of mental health conditions on individuals, as well as employers.
As the article rightly points out mental health conditions are economically important – costing British employers nearly £26 billion each year – and sickness presence comprises the majority of the costs. Our recent report, Sick and at work, highlights how workers with reduced psychological wellbeing are more likely to report sickness presence (when workers come to work even though they feel unwell enough to justify taking time off). The research identified three factors associated with sickness presence: 1. personal financial difficulties, 2. work-related stress, and 3. perceived workplace pressure.
Although the article mentions how organisations can contribute to stress-levels, it seems to confuse mental health problems with ‘a bad mood’. Just like some level of stress can be good, there is a line that can be crossed and it can become detrimental to someone’s health. Additionally, employers and workplaces can only do so much to address mental health problems. Rather than the employer taking sole responsibility for managing mental health, it should be coordinated with the appropriate health professionals in the healthcare system. More importantly, the employer should focus on providing good working conditions that not only support individuals with mental health conditions, but also reduce the impact that work contributes to the development or progression. In fact, the workplace can play a supportive role in facilitating recovery and reducing stigma and discrimination.
One of the beneficial outcomes of increasing the focus on psychological wellbeing may be that it increases the opportunity to talk about mental health. The stigma associated with mental health may be part of the reason the article’s author is critical about the increased attention to mental health. Why is it that someone’s performance assessment would be impacted by their mental health status? With appropriate treatment, good working conditions and line management, the impact of mental health conditions may be minimal. Furthermore, there are many high powered, effective individuals who have a mental health condition. The best way to combat the stigma associated with mental health conditions is to continue the conversation about it.
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