4 Misconceptions About Mental Health and Productivity in the WorkplaceAUTHOR: Kayla Matthews
In recent years, people have started to open up about mental health, sparking a national conversation and removing much of the stigma that used to come with such an admission. Still, all is not completely out in the open, especially at work — employees report that they fear talking about their mental health at the office.
For example, one study of UK workers found that more than half felt uncomfortable disclosing a mental health-related diagnosis to their boss. British employees aren’t alone — workforces elsewhere keep such information to themselves for fear of judgment.
To rectify this belief, employers and employees have to come together to learn about the misconceptions that come with a mental health issue or illness, and learn how acknowledging such conditions can make the workplace a happier, more productive place. Here are four misconceptions you should know.
1. Mental Health Conditions = Inability to Maintain a Job
For starters, many people confuse poor mental health with a mental illness — this is incorrect. The former deals solely in emotions and feelings. Perhaps you feel anxious, depressed or overwhelmed. You might think you can’t converse with or make connections with colleagues, or you could have trouble solving problems. Mental well-being tends to ebb and flow, which means we can battle with a low period to reach a happier, more stable state.
A mental illness, on the other hand, affects a person in a way they cannot emote, think, feel, behave, etc. As an example, someone can be sick with, say, a cold without having a serious illness. This is how employers should look at mental health versus mental illness — one is more serious than the other.
Still, in spite of the gravity that might come with the diagnosis of a mental illness, many people can lead balanced, healthy lives with the right treatment. Therapy, medication and other methods can all soothe lingering symptoms so sufferers can continue to work without issues. Openness about a struggle shouldn’t change perceptions about anyone who suffers, especially because they can contribute just as effectively as someone with a clean bill of mental health.
2. Employers Shouldn’t Get Involved
Another misconception about mental health is that it isn’t a manager or boss’s responsibility to get involved with their team’s personal health issues. It might make things easier this way — without knowing, every employee will be treated the same, have the same expectations, etc. But studies show openness and authenticity in the workplace help employees to boost performance, engagement and their feelings of well-being.
To that end, employees who felt safe enough to tell their bosses about struggles with depression ended up more productive than their counterparts who hid such information. On top of that, staffers who felt stronger support from their managers in terms of advice, programs, etc., took fewer days off from work than those who felt they had no help at the office.
Some companies might be hesitant to instill such programs or open the floor to honest conversations — they might worry about liability should something go wrong, or they might worry about the lack of profitability of such a system. However, protections via insurance exist for both staffers and employers, so there shouldn’t be as much cautiousness required in creating a more open, supportive environment.
3. People Can Just Put Their Mental Health Aside and Work
Another huge misconception about mental health in the workplace is that those in weakened states of mind can simply put their anxiety, depression, etc., aside and keep working. Even low levels of the aforementioned sentiments can make it tough to work — and a closed-door policy makes it harder for employees to deliver.
This is especially true in those who haven’t received a mental health-related diagnosis from a medical professional. They’ll often try to work through their thoughts because they don’t want to ask for help or disrupt the office. This situation exemplifies the importance of a mental health support system at work. With the right resources, staffers can get the treatment and therapies they need to feel better and resume their normal schedule.
Again, the lack of support for people with mental health ends up costing a business money. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the U.S. workforce loses about 200 million days of work per year to depression alone, costing companies up to $44 billion. So, a more honest conversation and people-first policy can help people heal, get back on their feet and avoid having to cut out for a breather every so often.
4. It’s Impossible to Recover
Finally, some employers might believe an employee with a mental health issue or illness cannot get better. Indeed, most people who suffer from such afflictions do require ongoing therapy and treatment, but that doesn’t mean they will never find solid ground again. Much of their stability derives from the support system they’ve built around themselves, and not just at home — employers can provide the solid footing and support they need to get better.
Support Your Team
So, let these misconceptions lead you in your quest to understand those in the office who struggle with mental health. Your kindness, compassion and support can help them get better, contribute more to the team and flourish. The entire office will be better for it, and you’ll feel good about your contribution, too.