Recognizing Mental Health Issues in the Workplace
Mental health is something many, many people struggle with. This is not a problem only in America, but most of the world. Every year, studies show more and more people being diagnosed with mental health issues. Unfortunately, most people hide their mental health problems or don’t even realize they should seek help since it has been such a taboo topic for so long. A keen eye can help notice the tale-tell signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues in the workplace.
An important thing to remember is that even if all these signs are present, it does not mean the employee is a bad employee or that they don’t care about their work. Often, the employee wants to do a good job and knows they are capable of better work. With the right understanding and encouragement, an employee can get the help they need and return to their hard-working selves.
One of the most common symptoms of depression and anxiety is drowsiness. Whether from lack of sleep or an increased need for sleep, drowsiness is a leading cause of procrastination and decreased productivity. If your employees are falling asleep at their desks, chances are they need more sleep. If depression or anxiety is disrupting that sleep in any way, employees will begin to show signs during the workday.
If an employee is yawning at their desk or you see them accidentally doze off, take a moment before reprimanding them, as drowsiness is not always an indicator of disinterest or being bored. Before taking these signs as the employee being rude, consider that maybe the employee is unwell. We understand when a new parent is kept up all night because of a newborn, but we invalidate people who suffer from insomnia due to mental health issues. Before being quick to judge and condemn, we should take a moment to try to understand each other better.
Often times, people with depression and anxiety will forget important day-to-day things. Something as simple as a meeting or the location of their keys can easily slip their mind. When an employee typically has a good memory, dealing with new memory loss symptoms from mental health can be difficult to deal with. Ridiculing or reprimanding someone suffering can add to the stress and make it worse.
In a work environment, missed appointments or deadlines can be incredibly harmful to the company. The employee typically knows they messed up the moment they are reminded of the thing they forgot. In these situations, if the error isn’t too terrible, try and consider all parts of the issue. Is this a permanent problem caused by the employee’s slip? Is this a long-standing, recurring habit of the employee? Have they ever proven themselves to be trustworthy in the past, but only recently have fallen off the horse? Does the employee feel remorse for the slip-up? Have they expressed efforts to fix their memory gaps and improve going forward? All these questions and more should be considered before taking disciplinary action towards an employee who has been suffering from poor memory.
At the end of the day, there will be bad employees who forget the work and are not a good fit for the company, but it’s never a good idea to assume every employee who slips up is a bad one. We’re all human after all.
The season can actually be a huge indicator of employee’s mental health. Seasonal depression is a very real issue. In fact, about 5% of the population experiences seasonal depression each year. When everyone is cooped up indoors during the cold, dark months, people typically do not get enough sunlight and Vitamin D, which is necessary for a healthy mind and body. Keep in mind the time of year and how much sunlight your employees are exposed to. If they come into work before the sun rises and leave after the sun sets, there is an increased risk of mental health (and physical health) problems to arise.
Restlessness or Irritability
For some people, when they are depressed or anxious, they can come off as restless or irritable. Sometimes they may make snappy comments or fidget during meetings. While rude behavior is never okay if an employee is acting out of the norm and exhibits these traits, perhaps pull them aside and check in on how they are doing. Pay attention to how they act one-on-one, as they might open up or feel they can’t talk about it for fear of repercussion. They might have emotions bottled up because they feel they can’t talk to anyone about it, not just HR. Work with them to seek help if talking to someone is what is needed.
Taking Increased Sick or Personal Days
When employees are feeling depressed or anxious, getting up in the morning can seem particularly difficult. Sometimes, the idea of sitting in an office with responsibilities can seem overwhelming that day. If you notice an employee starts taking more sick or personal days, you may start to worry if everything is okay. Now, sure, some bad employees take advantage of PTO policies, but our immediate assumption should not be that someone is trying to break the system. Instead, we should look at the employee’s history and match the behavior with proven habits. Does the employee often take PTO days, or is this a new development? Do they still get their work done? Do they make an effort to make up lost progress?
While taking PTO days may be a difficult indicator to separate from other life issues or policy abusers, it is typically a very common habit amongst mental health sufferers.
How to Counter Mental Health Pitfalls in the Office
As you can see, most of these symptoms can often be misconstrued as poor behavior. The best thing you can do is try to treat each person as another human who has their own struggles since it is more likely something is wrong in their lives than it is that they are taking advantage of the system.
If you notice any or all of these traits present in some or many of your employees, you might ask yourself, “what can we do to keep from adding to the stress?” After all, most employees spend the majority of their waking hours in their workplace, so keeping it an enjoyable and engaging experience should naturally be a priority. In fact, a 2015 study by the American Psychological Association showed that 65% of Americans see their jobs as a significant cause of their stress, more so than family issues, health issues or the overall economy.
Unfortunately, in today’s society, mental health awareness is not as healthy as it could be. Most insurance policies don’t cover much in terms of therapy or resources needed to get help. If you can’t find or afford a policy that includes mental health coverage, you should look inwards to the employee experience and see what you can do to improve your company culture. While none of these examples is the magic solution to making the workplace stress-free, they are simply guidelines for ways to focus on your employees.
Mental Health Days
Whether you use PTO or Sick/Vacation days, it is important to realize that employees need some days to themselves. Giving them the freedom to be humans and reconnect with themselves and life can really help reset themselves and get back on a more productive mindset. Often, the daily grind of routine can wear an employee down. Most of the time, people can schedule a vacation, but if an employee has no plans to go anywhere, they might feel weird about scheduling time off. Having the option to take an unscheduled mental health day will help alleviate the stress around deciding whether they should use a sick day or vacation day to recharge.
Sometimes employees will wake up and just know that they need that day to recharge their energy levels. When this happens, going into the office will only cause more problems that day, and will increase the chances of long-term leave. Even if work is not a cause of stress, the daily routine can be numbing and frustrating to some people.
Having the freedom and flexibility to take a mental health day without being ridiculed or judged will decrease the chances of employees lying about why they are taking off. If everyone is honest about why they are unable to work, it allows the company to not only manage employees better, but it makes employees feel like they can be honest and open with their employer—a necessity in order to keep employees feeling comfortable at work.
Everyone wants to be recognized for their work. If you worked in a tiny box and no one ever spoke to you or thanked you for the work you do, it would be only a matter of time before you start to resent the work and the fact that you are doing it. Having a recognition program can be a way to remember to thank employees, and your employees will feel like someone noticed their work. From non-monetary social recognition to MVP with an impressive reward, a recognition program is a great way to show your employees that they are noticed and valued.
Spice up the program by using games and nomination initiatives, with a reward to the person who sends the most rewards, to encourage a healthy economy of giving thanks.
Social events are a great way to get employees to connect with each other in a friendlier setting. Whether it is a company party or simply an organized walk during lunch time, doing something to connect employees will help make the workplace a better space.
If employees only go to work and don’t get to know their coworkers, they will wind up feeling unhappy because social interaction is key to feeling welcome in any space. If all an employee does is sit at their desk, do work, and go home, they will never connect with their employees. This is especially true for more reserved employees who might have a difficult time making friends.
Social events can be as simple as celebrating monthly birthdays or having an ice cream social. Even something like a spirit week, with different themed days, can boost social interaction and encourage employees to get to know each other.
Healthy Living Options
Diet and exercise is a huge part of mental health. If necessary nutrients are not taken in, it can really impact the brain and how the body operates. Encourage healthy living options, and follow through in the office. Set up a snack station of healthy snacks like fruit or yogurt. Our friends over at SnackNation have a healthy snack delivery service that we highly recommend (from first-hand experience).
If you can, bring in a healthy living consultant or nutrition expert to help advise employees on steps they can take to get into a better place mentally and physically.
Proper lighting is a crucial part of a productive day. While everyone is different, natural lighting is known to be more productive than artificial lighting. Florescent lights are well known to cause headaches and decrease the productivity of many people. Having bright lights that imitate the sun is the best way to keep an office feeling positive.
In the winter, it is particularly important to make sure your employees are getting enough light. There are desk lamps that produce artificial sunlight that can help counter seasonal depression.
Often, when employees are at the same employer for a long time, working the same job for years on end, they might feel like they are becoming stagnant. Our brains are very elastic, and when we are encouraged to learn more, it improves the speed and function of other tasks. By encouraging employees to learn more about their job, role, company, industry, or even a completely different topic that interests them, it gets them out of a stagnant state and gets their brains working.
Learning a new skill will not only improve the employee’s skill set but will also add value to the company. Even if the employee chooses something completely unrelated to their job, such as a software developer learning photography, he or she will enjoy learning about a new hobby which will improve their mental state, and thus improves their work output.
These are just a few examples of ways you can increase the employee experience in an effort to decrease mental health issues forming because of the workplace. While everyone is different, the best thing a company can do to improve the mental health of its employees is to always remember that we are all human, and deserve compassion. By making the workplace a fun and enjoyable place to spend the majority of your day, you will not only get the commitment from your employees, but you will also get increased productivity and better customer service. Interested in learning how to improve your company culture? Click here for some awesome perks other companies have implemented to improve the employee experience.