- Engaged employees are more likely to report that work has a positive impact on mental health
- Commitment to building strengths is a key driver of positive mental health effect
- Poor management is extremely harmful to the mental health of workers
Mental health can encompass many medical conditions ranging from depression, anxiety and stress to more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis. Assessing “mental health” more generally as an underlying condition, a recent Gallup study found that 40% of American workers say their job had a negative impact on their mental health in the previous six months, with 7% describing it as having an “extremely negative” impact.
Overall, 19% of workers rate their mental health as fair or poor, which is linked to an additional $47.6 billion in unplanned absences from work each year due to poor mental health, a cost high for the US economy. But what are the most important factors that actually influence employee mental health? And what are the managerial hazards to avoid that can most harm the mental health of employees?
Improving worker mental health starts with employee engagement
The foundation for improving worker mental health is employee engagement. Gallup measures employee engagement through a science-based survey that measures several elements of the workplace, including the level of employee agreement on clarity of expectations, opportunities for development, and their opinions that matter at work. Through repeated meta-analyses in multiple countries, employee engagement has been linked to many desirable organizational outcomes, including profitability, productivity, customer service, retention, safety, and overall well-being. In short, “engaged” employees are involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace, while “actively disengaged” employees are unhappy and disloyal because most of their workplace needs are not are not satisfied. Currently, 32% of American workers are classified as engaged.
Employee engagement is a powerful indicator of how a job can affect a worker’s mental health. When Gallup tracked more than 10,000 of the same randomly selected American workers over a six-month period, those who were classified as hired in February 2022 were five times more likely to later report that their work had an “extremely positive impact” on their mental health over the previous six months compared to all other employees. Those who were categorized as actively disengaged, in turn, were also more than six times more likely to say their job had had an “extremely negative impact” on their mental health in the previous six months than all other employees.
Additionally, employees who were categorized in February as “unengaged” — the kind of middle-class employees Gallup has previously characterized as primarily “silent quitters” — are no more likely to report that their work has had an extremely positive impact on their mental health than their actively disengaged counterparts.
These findings suggest that a tipping point exists between employee engagement and a significant positive impact on employee mental health status and that such a tipping point occurs. only on the threshold of commitment. Similarly, the tipping point of a (mostly) negative impact occurs only on the threshold of active disengagement. The fact that this “escape velocity” of mental health – whether positive or negative – occurs primarily with engaged or actively disengaged groups clearly highlights the critical intersection between engagement and its subsequent impact on the mental health of workers. This finding also underscores a new urgency for leaders looking for new strategies to address the mental health of their employees.
Top 5 Pillars for Improving Employee Mental Health
Besides having an engaged workforce in general, what else can organizational leaders do to help? Gallup sought to identify the most salient aspects of working life related to mental health. Nearly 50 individual metrics were analyzed to distill the most common and cost-effective actions that positively impact employee mental health.
In each case, employees who strongly agree with these five statements are at least seven times more likely to report that their work has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on their mental health over the previous six months, resulting in what we have identified as the top five pillars of employee mental health.
1. The organization demonstrates a commitment to building on each employee’s strengths and helping everyone do what they do best every day.
It’s essential to respect each employee’s natural abilities and do everything possible to ensure that they spend as much time as possible doing what they do best every hour of the day. Using strengths is the ultimate performance optimizer, and employers who prioritize it among their employees reap the added benefit of a significant positive impact on the mental health of their employees.
2. Employees are managed in a way that motivates them to do exceptional work.
Doing great work comes with a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and recognition. Being motivated to do so is a powerful mental health booster in the workplace and simultaneously creates a culture of high performance and achievement.
3. Employees believe that their organization genuinely cares about their overall well-being.
Among many strategies proven to positively impact workplace well-being, this major mental health booster is strongly influenced by (1) providing easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the workplace, (2 ) providing resources to help employees manage their finances and prepare for retirement, (3) encouraging employees to share their own ideas about improving workplace wellness, and (4) including members of the family in wellness programs and activities.
4. Employees trust the leadership of their organization.
In practical terms, this pillar is most strongly influenced by how effectively leadership clearly verbalizes an ongoing roadmap of how they plan to lead the organization through emerging challenges in the marketplace. The more successful this communication is, the greater the trust it generates within the workforce and the greater the subsequent impact on mental health.
5. Employees feel connected to the culture of the organization.
Employees whose leaders help them feel part of the purpose of the organization and who help them see how their individual goals connect to the larger goals of the organization achieve much better performance results. Mental Health.
Avoid at All Costs: 4 Mistakes That Harm Employee Mental Health
Other aspects of work life are particularly detrimental to employee mental health if performed poorly. Organizations most notorious for harming their employees’ mental health will be disproportionately guilty of all four offenses – employees who experience these failings are at least seven times more likely to say their work has had an extremely negative impact on their mental health over the previous six months.
1. Materials and equipment needed to do the job well are not provided.
One of the most basic psychological needs, sending employees to the workplace without the proper tools to perform their jobs, is one of the most powerful negative influencers of mental health.
2. Employee opinions are not sufficiently heard or counted.
Employees who don’t think their opinions matter often feel psychologically unsafe to share them, usually because they report to someone who isn’t a good manager. Even if they share their thoughts, opinions that seem to be ignored or comments that go nowhere can lead to frustration, worry, stress and anger and damage the social fabric of the culture. organization.
3. Clients are not properly supported and prioritized.
This includes consistently failing to deliver on brand promises made to customers and maintaining the speed and agility to adapt to customers in a changing marketplace. Workers pride themselves on excellent customer service and brand loyalty – poor execution here is a major contributor to poor employee mental health.
4. Management doesn’t know what employees do best.
The only thing worse than having a manager who focuses on weakness is having a manager who ignores individual team members, reducing the likelihood of being hired to just 2%. It’s no wonder, then, that ignoring the natural strengths of employees is significantly detrimental to mental health.
One last thought
Finally, employee assistance programs (EAPs) are a way to help support employee mental health using common-sense approaches that haven’t been addressed by too many organizations. About 30% of American workers don’t know how to access their company’s EAP and only 43% say their employer provides easily accessible mental health services. In response, EAPs should be strongly and regularly promoted and completely destigmatized by the leaders. Additionally, too many organizations continue to require employees to opt-in rather than pre-enroll (opt-out) to company, which leads to more administrative and psychological obstacles to their use.
Awareness and easy access to EAPs are important, but that’s just the beginning. The most important aspects of maximizing the likelihood of having a successful impact on employee mental health are how an organization’s human capital is managed and how well its brand promises are delivered. The ramifications of successful or unsuccessful execution are far-reaching for the organization itself and for the people who work within it.
Make employee wellbeing a priority for your organization.
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