Mental health in the workplace

Having good mental health means that an individual is in a state of wellbeing that supports their ability to handle everyday stressors in their work and family lives. It enables them to work productively, fulfil their potential, and function as a contributing member of society. 

Poor mental health, on the other hand, can be debilitating. It can result in poor work performance, communication challenges, and an inability to cope with the demands of daily living. 

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health in the workplace has been placed at the top of the HR agenda, and promoting employee mental wellness must be a priority for businesses who want to hire – and retain – high-performing employees. 

What can cause poor employee mental health? 

Employee mental health can be negatively affected by: 

Lack of support: When managers don’t support employees with the resources they need, it could result in them becoming overwhelmed and unmotivated. 

Performance pressure: When management expects employees to constantly perform at their peak, it places undue pressure and unreasonable stress on them, which negatively affects mental health. Ironically, insufficient workloads could lead to feelings of inadequacy and boredom, resulting in decreased performance and poorer mental health too. 

Lack of job security: Job insecurity places massive strain on mental health. During the pandemic, many employees lost their jobs, and as the world makes its way through the resultant economic turmoil, a lot of uncertainty prevails. 

How poor mental health affects employees 

The effect of poor mental health is not felt by employees alone – it can have dire consequences for organisations as well, including high staff turnover, safety liabilities, poor performance, and, ultimately, loss of profit. Here are some consequences of poor mental health in the workplace: 

1. Lack of engagement: Employees become disengaged from their work as poor mental health results in demotivation and poor focus. Once disengaged, employees will tend to approach problems reactively rather than proactively looking for solutions. 

2. Poor productivity and job performance: Good mental health is the cornerstone of high performance. When employees are suffering poor mental health, their ability to perform is severely affected. 

3. Reduced ability to function: Poor mental health takes a physical toll too. It often leads to major exhaustion, reducing the ability to perform normal daily functions. 

4. Poor communication: This can often lead to miscommunication or over-reaction due to misinterpretation between colleagues. Communication might also come across as negative, inattentive, or passive aggressive. 

5. Poor decision-making. Poor mental health can lead to a lack of impulse control and poor decision-making. 

How can employees manage this? 

Here are some strategies to help employees safeguard their mental health: 

Learn to say no: It’s critical to know how much work you are able to take on so that you don’t overstretch yourself and commit to thing that you won’t be able to do. Learn to say ‘no’ so that you can manage not only your workload, but expectations too. 

Set boundaries: Thanks to technology, people can be reached 24/7, but this doesn’t mean that you should be. That’s why it’s important to set boundaries from the get-go. If you’re not responding to mails after 17h00, let people know so that they know what to expect. Resect your own boundaries and others will too. 

Build positive relationships: Having good relationships with your colleagues and management means they can help you manage your workload and navigate other issues that might affect your mental health. 

Ask for help: Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, so it’s important to speak to them about how best they can help support you. 

What can employers do to promote mental health? 

According to research, what people want most in the workplace is mental health training and easily accessible information about where to go or who to ask for help. Employees value an open culture regarding mental health at work. 

Here are some ways companies can help employee mental health: 

1. Understanding how mental health affects your staff: It is essential that managers are trained to recognise the signs of emotional distress so that they can respond in a positive and supportive way. 

2. Give good mental health coverage: If your company is affiliated to a medical scheme, ensure that it is one that offers good mental health cover. 

3. Establish an Employee Assistance Programme to confidentially support workplace mental health. Encourage employees to make use of the EAP by providing them with direct access to mental health professionals, and reassuring them of 100% confidentiality. 

4. Reduce the stigma around mental health: Talk often and openly about mental health to encourage an inclusive workplace culture. 

5. Promote employee wellbeing: This includes things like providing as much flexibility as possible, encouraging employees to use their leave days in order to get some rest, and providing opportunities for employees to build connections with each other. 



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