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Can mental health issues be linked to the workplace

Can mental health issues be linked to the workplace

21 November 2017
Kelly Newsletter on Mental health issues



Although, mental health issues are often not openly discussed in the workplace, mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing.

* In fact companies that experience high staff turnover, low productivity, lots of absenteeism and ongoing employee grievances, could probably attribute the frequency of many of these occurrences to the state of their own employees’ mental health.

Mental health impacts our ability to think, emote, interact with each other, and earn a living. The acknowledgement and management of mental health should therefore be an important priority for not only societies but organisations throughout the world.

In this edition of K-Insight, I will be sharing exactly what mental health problems could potentially manifest themselves within an organisation, and how they can be identified and managed to ensure the organisation’s wellbeing. 


Kay Vittee



While mental health problems affect many employees in the workplace, the unfortunate reality is that due to the stigma associated with mental health issues they are not acknowledged and dealt with in the workplace. Instead, staff are left to bear the burden alone which impacts not only productivity but the culture and connectedness of the team within which they operate. 

According to the World Health Organisation: ‘mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.’

*Considering that mental disorders account for 15% of the global burden of disease and the fact that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, mental wellness is certainly an issue that needs to be prioritised within the workplace.

*Absenteeism currently costs the economy around R12-16 billion per annum, this simply highlights the importance of implementing measures to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental disorders.

However, in addition to the economic implications for organisations, collectively mental health could potentially negatively impact team performance and the overall company culture.

Pinpointing possible symptoms of mental health in your workplace

·         Absenteeism is on the increase: It is very rare for staff to call in sick and openly cite depression or anxiety as the reason they are not coming into work. Regular short-term absence that is not accompanied by a sick note for a chronic problem could indicate an underlying mental health condition.

·         Conflict and grievances among employees: Ongoing conflict and grievances complaints signal possible problems with workplace wellbeing. They could indicate anxiety or stress caused by the actions and behaviour of another employee.

·         Low company morale: Employees with mental health disorders may appear unmotivated and withdrawn. Even though they may always be present at work, it is likely that they are not performing optimally. 

·         Organisational productivity is waning: Low productivity can be deemed as a sign of an underlying issue, the cause of which could very well be attributed to mental wellbeing.

·         High staff turnover: Whether it is the result of a negative organisational culture, uncompetitive pay and benefits, unrealistic job requirements, or poor mental wellbeing, a high staff turnover is a sign of a potential problem or disconnect within the organisation.

Dealing with mental health in the workplace

The starting point when it comes to addressing mental health issues in the workplace is eradicating any potential stigmas and opening the lines of communication. As an employer, you need to always be cognisant of the fact that most employees shy away from reporting mental health mental illness for fear of being judged as weak or incompetent.

You need to openly encourage employees to communicate any issues, health related or not, that may impact on absenteeism and productivity.

To effectively deal with mental health within an organisation, a holistic approach will need to be adopted. Here are some of the basics organisations should keep top of mind when dealing with mental wellbeing in the workplace:

·         Improve awareness of the issue in a way that does not perpetuate the stigma and educate the organisation as whole about the importance of diagnosing and treating mental health problems.

·         Open the lines of communication between the leadership team and the workforce to establish whether relationships and workloads could potentially be causing mental duress.

·         Distribute an internal survey to assess the staff’s understanding of mental health and the current state of mental health in the organisation.

·         Introduce Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) in the organisation to offer well-being related benefits such as counselling, debt management, legal advice, and support on emotional and work-life issues.

Ultimately organisations need to recognise that just like physical health, everyone goes through fluctuating levels of mental wellbeing. And, after acknowledging this, move towards proactively implementing measures to identify and manage mental wellbeing in the workplace.  After all healthy, happy employees are the only sure way to ensure optimal company performance.

(Please click on the link below for more information on this topic)