Mental Health Matters

Does the Workplace Have a Role in Our Current Mental Health Crisis?

A recent Gallup feature sharing survey results and the discrepancy between how CHRO, HR workers, and regular workers view the workplace when it comes to mental health has some interesting things to consider. I, however, want to focus on this bit:

A CHRO recently mused if mental health was really a workplace issue. Are organizations really responsible for the mental health crisis? Should they feel responsible for changing it? Can they even control it?

I have opinions on this, which I’m sure is no surprise to you. They are, admittedly, based on my own experiences and the experiences of people I have known through the years, but I feel like they are relevant here. I occasionally run into this kind of rhetoric and I can absolutely see the appeal. Let’s use myself as an example to look at this with a broad brush.

  • My first bout of clear mental health problems was a result of my childhood abuse. It came about in my 20’s, while I was working. Did my employer have a responsibility to prevent or fix what I was dealing with? No. The cause of my mental health problems was not tied to work or anything that was going on currently. However, once a disability was identified, they did have a responsibility in the same way that they would have had a responsibility if I had a physical disability. I’ve written before about all the ways I was accommodated after hurting my knee. When the mental health issue is not tied to work, I should still expect that same level of effort from my employer, while also recognizing that the workplace is not the problem.
  • But, let’s not kid ourselves that all mental health situations are not because of the workplace. I want to break this into two sections:
    • Direct effects – chronically being understaffed, causing overwork, a lack of boundaries or flexibility, a culture that allows mistreatment and harassment, etc. If those things are causing depression and anxiety or contributing to a mental health condition, then I think the workplace has a responsibility here to make a change. There might not be a law that makes you responsible, but there’s no question that the job is causing harm. You are ethically and morally responsible for the harm you cause.
    • Indirect effects – If you don’t pay your employees a livable wage and they have to live paycheck-to-paycheck, with food or housing anxiety, that’s totally on you. If the workplace culture allows people to be bullied or harassed, that’s also on you. Again, you are causing harm.

So, while I wouldn’t place the blame for all of our anxiety coming from a pandemic, climate, racism, sexism, and violence on it, I do believe the workplace has a role to play when it comes to supporting the human beings who work for you in dealing with all of that, and a responsibility to not add to it. Unfortunately, I see a lot of leaders who don’t seem to care about either of those things. IMHO, they don’t deserve to have employees.

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