A very excited Daniel is ready to resume at his new job. 7 months into this job, and this excitement appears like it would be short-lived for several reasons. Firstly, Dan cannot understand why his new workmates keep undermining the efforts he puts into managing a heavy workload. Secondly, his line manager consistently declines all his leave requests, even as he works overtime on most days of the week. Thirdly, the stress from work is not making the already strained relationship with his girlfriend any better. Amidst all these, Dan had lost his excitement, passion, and enthusiasm for work, and persistently slips into low mood – factors that have severely affected his daily functioning and productivity.
Unsurprisingly, Dan is one among many persons who pass through mental health challenges daily as a result of stressors at the workplace. Many people are faced with different workplace threats to their mental health, most of which are subtle, leaving majority of the victims oblivious to the slow but persistent damage to their mental health. Multiple workplace stressors are widely recognized to emanate from interactions within the workplace – the people, the policies, and the person – which can act independently or synergistically to affect the mental well-being of an employee.
People-The relationship one has with his/her team members is important as you spend most of your time at work interacting with them. A strained relationship with work colleagues, supervisors, managers, and external stakeholders hugely influences a person’s mental health and s/he might begin to question his/her abilities and in turn experience a decline in their self-esteem. Good teamwork has been shown to improve the motivation of workers, encourage creativity and improve productivity.1 Power dynamics, status of teammates, a good blend of varying preferences, effective communication, good leadership are important factors that make a team functional and productive. Imbalances in these factors disrupt the dynamics of a team and can affect the mental health of team members negatively. Thus, working in a dysfunctional team can be a daunting experience.
Policies- Organizational management policies remain an important factor that has strong influence on a person’s mental health. Unfriendly workplace policies encourage unhealthy work habits which takes a toll on one’s mental health. For instance, research has proven that people who are forced to multitask, perform significantly worse than those who are allowed to work sequentially, and this inadvertently leads to emotional strain, exhaustion and burnout .4.5 Some other unhealthy work habits that negatively impact mental health can be found on wellsource.com’s article – “bad workplace habits that affect mental health”. The work design, the organizational structure, and even the workplace architecture all have impacts on an employee’s mental health.
With the work design, an employee designated to work on a task that: (1) s/he has little or a vague understanding of; (2) triggers unpleasant memories or emotions; and/or (3) generally makes him/her feel less competent, would have mental health issues. It could also be that the nature of work/efforts required to deliver on a task does not allow for work-life balance.
The structure of an organization also contributes to the mental health of employees. Therefore, when speaking to the mental health of a person it would be difficult to alienate the structure of the person’s workplace as most of their time is spent in the workplace interacting with this structure. It is possible that the prevailing reporting system is bureaucratic or inflexible – work output having to go through several layers of reviews, which, most times takes longer time thereby negatively impacting productivity.
Also, how the office workspace is designed and decorated could have impact on the mental health of employees.2 How so? Research has shown that workspaces infused with a touch of nature can greatly improve the mental well-being of the employees.3 Crowded or noisy spaces, bland environments, workspaces with too hot or too cold temperatures, offices with insufficient natural light, or workspaces with generally poor aesthetics can take a toll on the mental health of the employees and dampen their productivity.
Person- The personal space of an employee is greatly intertwined with his/her workspace and, therefore, plays a huge role in their mental resilience to workplace stressors. They could be navigating stressful personal challenges ranging from family, marital, financial, to health challenges and when workplace conditions are built to worsen the effect of these personal stress factors, the employee’s mental health will likely deteriorate.
Importantly, when an employee begins to experience low mood due to persistent stress, low self-esteem, irritability, poor concentration, and poor judgement, they could be pointers to mental health struggles. These pointers warrant serious interventions which can range from wholesome changes to organizational structure and policies to referral for a therapy session with an affiliated psychologist. Organizations must, therefore, consider the resultant mental health impact when setting up teams and workstreams, designing policies, and managing intra-organizational conflicts. Critically, employers should regularly set up ‘mental health’ meetings where feedback are sought from employees either individually or in groups, and act on them promptly and appropriately. This way, employees would feel valued, important, and involved in the organization thereby making the workplace more comfortable for them.
Mental health holds the key to organizational productivity. Therefore, employers should consider this a priority!
- Organisational behaviour: David A Buchanan Andrzej A Huczynski
- The role of nature in the context of the workspace – Rachel Kaplan
- Buser, T., Peter, N. Multitasking. Exp Econ 15, 641–655 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10683-012-9318-8
- Pikos, Anna Katharina (2017) : The causal effect of multitasking on workrelated mental health: The more you do, the worse you feel, Hannover Economic Papers (HEP), No. 609, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät, Hannover