Community//

Let’s Talk Mental Health at Work. Yours.

Unpacking stress, burnout, prevention, and the prevalence of mental health.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

If you think you don’t have it, think again. 

First, if you’ve experienced chronic stress related to work, then you’ve likely flirted with burnout. Burnout, according to the World Health Organization is an “occupational phenomenon”, characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

That’s a mouthful. Basically, you’re mental health is struggling, your stress is poorly managed, and it is contributing to presenteeism and/or absenteeism at work. And, the work environment is contributing to your chronic stress. 

Second, everyone has a degree of mental health.  Just as everyone has a degree of physical health. Health is a continuum. Not an all or nothing.

Context: Mental Health in the Workplace

Last week, on Oct. 10, we acknowledged World Mental Health Day. I was honored to moderate a panel of mental health professionals to look at the challenge of Mental Health in the Workplace. 

Why? Because mental health is still stigmatized and misunderstood. It’s seen as you either have a mental health problem or you don’t have anything. Wrong. 

Thankfully, the misconception and stigma are changing. Because the truth is, 80 percent of us will manage a mental health condition in our lifetime, according to research published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and cited by Harvard Business Review. 

HBR was covering new research on the prevalence of mental health in the workplace, which found that:

  • Nearly 60% of respondents experienced mental health symptoms in the past year.
  • Close to 60% never talked about their conditions at work.
  • 86% of respondents thought that a company’s culture should support mental health.
  • 61% said their productivity was affected by their mental health.
  • 37% said their work environment contributed to their symptoms.

Previous research has found:

  • In total, the 217 million days of work loss and work impairment due to behavioral health disorders cost employers $17 billion annually. (Business Group Health)
  • Presenteeism costs the workplace 1.8 times that of absenteeism in the UK. (Tom Oxley)
  • 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious. (CDC)
  • 52% say they would not tell their employer if diagnosed in the future. (American Heart Association)
  • For every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity. (WHO)

I could keep listing stats but you get the picture. It’s a problem and it affects each of us. Yes, you too. Stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, they’re linked. 

“OK But What About Me?”

Did you know that burnt out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the ER? They’re also 13% less confident in their performance…Is that REALLY how you want to use your PTO? Is that really how you want to run your conference calls and meetings? A state of ill-health and poor confidence?

No.

So how do you know if you’re stress is the bad stress? How do you know before you actually start flirting with burn out? How can you prevent it? How can you recover? How do you know if you have anxiety or depression? 

I’ll answer in brief and refer you to links for more digging.

Stress: stress can be great. Positive stress or Eustress is what fires you up to compete or perform. Or to react and catch your kid before he/she darts into the street after a ball, before a car comes. 

Distress (chronic stress) is what you mostly hear about. It’s not great. It hits every inch of your body, inside and out. Chronic stress related to your workplace is a contributing factor to burnout. It can also contribute to anxiety or depression. 

You can learn more about stress,anxiety and depressionin these links.

What about burnout? Burnout is strictly associated with work.  

Gallup did a 3-part report on employee burnout in 2018. Here are the 5 top causes of burnout they found:

  1. Unfair treatment at work. 
  2. Unmanageable workload.
  3. Lack of role clarity.
  4. Lack of communication and support from manager.
  5. Unreasonable time pressure. 

You can dig into these more here

“OK, So What do I Look For?”

Signs of burnout include:

I listed the WHO’s signs and symptoms at top. But as a reminder, it’s can appear as physical, mental, and/or emotional exhaustion resulting from workplace stress. (A mentally unhealthy work environment). 

This may mean you experience:

  • Sleep disruption
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Cynicism
  • Growing disinterest
  • Lack of satisfaction
  • Bowel disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Poor productivity

If you are experiencing these things, reach out to your employer’s Employee Assistance Program. You most likely do, given “many surveys show that 90% of medium and large employers in the US have EAPs. Even 75% of small employers in the US now have EAP,” according to research published by the Health Enhancement Research Organization. 

If you can’t find your EAP, or want to go elsewhere, look into a licensed professional counselor or another mental health professional. He/She can further guide you on what help will be most beneficial. This could include assisting you in pinpointing the issue at work to address with management, if that’s an option.

As the WHO recommends, seeking support and evaluating workplace options are key. 

“OK, So How Do I Prevent This?”

Also key and recommended by WHO is practicing, what I call (and coach) whole-person health. This includes:

  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep
  • Stress management

Building resilience through self-care (e.g. whole-person health) is also how you can reduce your risk of burnout in the first place. Self-care builds resilience like compound interest. It seems selfish still to some to care for oneself. But the more you care for yourself, the more you can care for others. This includes your job responsibilities.

This also means the more able you are to let workplace stressors pass rather than building and boiling into chronic stress and burnout. 

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