Improving workplaces for people with mental health challenges will improve everyone’s work
At the end of May, tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros due to anxiety and depression. A few months later, Simone Biles missed a major part of the Olympics for reasons related to her own sanity. These and other cases have drawn much-needed attention to the exact mental health conditions – for employees and employers – in workplaces that go far beyond high performance athletics to warehouses, offices and workshops.
The evidence is clear that the cost of mental illness in the workplace is large and widespread, and that it accumulates over the lifetime of a worker. Almost 20% of working adults report significant symptoms of mental illness within a month, and half will experience a problem in their lifetime. Think about it for a moment. This potentially means that one in five of your employees could be struggling with significant mental health issues as you read this.
Although illnesses vary in severity and nature, symptoms can interfere with productivity in ways that have far-reaching consequences for employers and employees. Depression, for example, can make small tasks intimidating and can cause people to be irritable and angry with others. Anxiety can prevent people from meeting deadlines, attending meetings, or making presentations. Symptoms of mental illness can cause people to take time off work altogether. In some cases, the symptoms of mental illness lead people to lose or quit their jobs.
If employers want a future of work where businesses continue to grow and prosper, we need answers that recognize the reality of mental health symptoms, allow flexibility and adjustment in the workplace, while preserving productivity.
The good news is that such solutions exist. The disruption caused by mental illness in the workplace can itself be interrupted by combining high quality clinical interventions with workplace accommodations and support. And the workplace changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic offer new opportunities to put these solutions in place.
For example, the rapid expansion of tele-mental health during the pandemic may make it easier for workers to access treatment by reducing the time and cost of travel to care. Additionally, after a year and a half of practice, many companies and workers have become more comfortable working remotely using Zoom meetings, text rather than verbal communication threads, and work schedules. alternative. Just as closed captions and text readers have made it easier for people with hearing and vision loss to participate in the workforce, technologies that facilitate remote work and care may offer workers with mental illness more opportunities to stay. healthy and working.
These interventions can help the workforce of today and the workforce of 2040 as well. The first symptoms of mental illnesses frequently appear in adulthood, disrupting career paths and making it more difficult to acquire the experience and cognitive and interpersonal skills that constitute a platform for success. People with mental health issues may be referred to jobs with lower paying skills and more vulnerable to foreign competition and automation. It is a loss of human potential that accumulates over time and leaves people who have suffered from mental illness in the past with lower wages, lower savings, fewer assets, and a higher likelihood of depending on public aid. The result is an unnecessary spiral of loss of human talent, investment in the workplace and economic productivity.
Treatment and accommodation, as well as new technologies, can help young workers with mental illnesses gain expertise and expand the range of jobs available to them.
Making workplaces and jobs more flexible in time, space and the nature of interaction will immediately benefit people with mental illness. It is also likely to produce benefits far beyond concerns related to mental illness.
Accommodations that help people with mental illness can also address the full range of factors that complicate and disrupt people’s lives and affect their jobs – just about everyone. This “curb effect” was named after the unexpected benefits resulting from these indentations in the sidewalks (curb cuts). Originally aimed at expanding wheelchair access to sidewalks, they turned out to have many beneficiaries, from parents pushing baby strollers to tourists pulling suitcases on wheels. Likewise, increased flexibility and support in the workplace can benefit large numbers of workers and their employers.
Most importantly, these technologies have the potential to transform workers with mental illnesses today and in the future. If more employers embrace proven treatments and accommodations, as well as innovations from the pandemic, we can create a more equitable and economically vibrant future of work for people with mental illnesses and the businesses that support them. employ.
Sherry Glied is a member of the Geisinger board of directors. The authors have not received financial support from any company or person for this article or from any company or person with a financial or political interest in this article. Other than the above, they are not currently an officer, director or board member of any organization interested in this article.
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