Psychological Health at Work

by Dr Christopher C Ridgeway

The effects of psychological health

It is suggested that some managers consider that psychological health is an employee’s own affair, so the most appropriate action is to ignore it until it becomes critical.

It is true that many people experiencing mental health distress appear to believe that it is ‘expected’ that they should not voice their pain. Consequently, they suffer in silence. They believe that if they inform others, particularly managers at work, they will face negative attitudes. Their belief, in some cases, may well be correct. Some managers still hold to the notion that staff should be able (as they imagine they themselves are able) to ‘snap out of it’. Other sufferers feel that managers will believe, perhaps because their parents have said so, that an effective cure is a ‘cold bath’ or a ‘run around the playing fields’. Whatever managers’ and/or staff’s beliefs, at some point an ongoing psychological distress experience will exhibit itself at work.

By the time that you, as their manager, are aware that there is a problem, the symptoms are likely to be affecting the smooth running of your team. Psychological distress may be exhibited in

  • Changed interpersonal behaviour
  • Absenteeism
  • An increase in alcohol or un-prescribed substance abuse
  • An increase in smoking
  • Decreased levels of work performance.

Those experiencing psychological distress may display mood changes. They may behave more irritably. Some will become noticeably socially isolated. Some will show symptoms of heightened anxiety and/or panic. Others may have mood swings, resulting in behaviour that at times will be very outgoing and at other times significantly withdrawn. Some will show a marked change in their absenteeism pattern, such as taking regular Mondays off or persistently arriving late.

Psychological distress could be expressed via an increase in smoking, though, like all addictions, this could be concealed, as could substance abuse. The increased consumption could occur during toilet breaks, for example, or before work.

It is likely that those who experience significant psychological distress will show a negative change in their work performance. Typical behaviours might include

  • Slower decisions
  • An increased number of errors
  • A decline in work output
  • Fewer ideas.

Other indicators of distress could include an increased volume of complaints from

  • Customers
  • Co-workers
  • Suppliers.