Mental health in the workplace from an HR perspective

July 19, 2023

Mental health is essential to a happy life, but it is often mistakenly subordinated to physical health. The two influence each other, as it is not uncommon for mental illness to have an impact on physical health.

Likeminded Editorial Team

Table of Content

Why is mental health important in the workplace?

  • Work can have a positive impact on the health of employees
  • There is a risk of disengagement due to a lack of balance between work and leisure time
  • Risk: Absenteeism due to mental illness is much more costly for companies
  • Stress and burnout can affect the whole team or company
  • Mental stress as an injury in the workplace – economic losses and consequences for the company

Mental health is essential to a happy life, but it is often mistakenly subordinated to physical health. The two influence each other, as it is not uncommon for mental illness to have an impact on physical health and vice versa.

Although the workplace has become more flexible for many in recent years, it still plays a fundamental role in everyday life. Because, as the World Health Organization (WHO) writes that work positively affects mental health – provided there is a positive working environment. It is not uncommon for stress, bullying, and harassment at work to trigger dissatisfaction and mental illnesses such as burnout, anxiety disorders, or depression. Experts speak of a lack of balance between work and leisure time as a loss of boundaries, whereby work becomes the center of life. According to the Federal Ministry of Health, increasing pressure to always be available, greater complexity in the areas of responsibility, and increasing personal responsibility are on the rise.

The result is often mental or physical illness, with the former proving far more costly for employers due to the duration of the absences. The comparison: Whereas physical illnesses last an average of 12 days, mental illnesses last three times as long at 36 days and account got 15% of absences in Germany. At the same time, diagnoses of mental illness are not always understood, so those affected feel misunderstood, left alone, and marginalized – factors that can further intensify the illness. This has enormous economic consequences: In 2017 alone, mental illness caused lost production costs of 12.2 billion euros.

But prevention pays off: Investing in the prevention and treatment of mental illness achieves four times the savings (increased productivity and reduced costs).

Here’s how mental health affects the workplace 

Mental health runs on a continuum, because an illness does not immediately mean that it must have a significant negative impact on life and work – if it is treated. At the same time, negative emotions can affect everyday life without necessarily having a mental illness.

Corporate structures interact with different departments, which in turn involve a large number of employees. Not only can stress and burnout be transferred to other people, but mental illness in the workplace in Germany can also lead to long absences, which have to be absorbed by other employees. Pressure and stress, therefore, increase for everyone directly, but also indirectly, so that they are also exposed to higher psychological stress. It’s a vicious circle: the more stress, the more absences, the more stress for the others, and so it goes on.

How can mental health be assessed?

Mental illness or even just mental discomfort can affect anyone. The stability of a company can only be guaranteed if all employees are mindful of their mental health and that of others. But how can mental health be determined?

A mental health test can provide information about where a person is on this spectrum and what measures can be taken to provide them with the best possible help. This can be determined, for example, by means of a mental health questionnaire in the workplace. Many employees experience similar difficulties, which is why open communication is particularly worthwhile in teams: group or individual discussions can help to identify problems such as bullying, harassment, or overwork at an early stage and thus protect employees’ mental health. Mental health exercises such as mindfulness, meditation, or more intensive sessions with experts have also proven to be good preventive measures.

Generally speaking, it is helpful for employees to take a look inside themselves every now and then and become aware of their personal well-being at work and in their private lives. As Steve Jobs explained in his Commencement address at Stanford in 2005, he asked himself every morning if he was satisfied with what he was doing that day. Whenever the answer was ‘no’ too many times in a row, he knew something had to change.

From the HR managers’ perspective

For HR managers, the task of mentally supporting their employees can be overwhelming at first. Likeminded offers targeted support on both sides to enable dialogue with employees and actively offer solutions to problems: Is there something the person is not so happy with right now and a way to change this situation – for example through a short-term relief or a change of direction such as further training or a change of department?

Because if HR managers proactively seek out the conversation around personal development as part of mental health, not only can stress and mental illness be prevented, but the company can make significant gains in productivity through prevention.

Easy access to mental well-being – for employees and companies

Mental health and the prevention of mental illness are becoming more and more prevalent globally, so the taboo surrounding the topic is slowly breaking down. This is because a lack of mental well-being or mental illness is considered a violation in the workplace in some places. A University of Michigan study suggests that even the fear of losing one’s job can lead to mental and physical illness. Overwork, ongoing stress, and a lack of relief from the company can lead to further economic losses for companies. This is especially true for issues such as workplace bullying and harassment, which have risen sharply in recent years, ranging from questionable word choice in emails to sexual harassment. This not only affects employees and their mental well-being but sooner or later the entire company.

Focus on prevention and easy, individualized access to mental wellness to make the workplace a place where both employees and the company can grow. Mental health is the key to an efficient and productive company that supports its employees in their development while striving to become better every day.

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