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The value of mental health in the workplace

March 12, 2012
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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We spend over a third of our adult lives at work, yet few of us probably take into account how that time winds up affecting our mental health. New research shows that employees who feel “valued” at work are more likely to report better physical and mental health than those who don’t.

Last week, the American Psychological Association (APA) released its 2012 “Stress in the Workplace” survey, in which 21% of working Americans said they don’t feel valued by their employers. Only 33% of those repondents were "motivated to do their best at work" or demonstrated a high level of engagement or satisfaction. For those who do feel valued, that number jumps to 93%.

David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, explains that organizations that become successful have learned the importance of paying attention to “the relationships among employee, organization, customer and community.”

“Forward-thinking employers are taking steps to create a positive organizational culture where employees feel valued and, in turn, help drive bottom-line results," Ballard says.

The survey identified several factors linked to feeling undervalued at work, including having fewer opportunities for involvement in decision making and being less satisfied with the potential for growth and advancement.

In addition, 41% of the employees surveyed said they typically “feel tense or stressed out” during the workday. The most commonly cited causes of work stress included:

  • Low salaries (46%)
  • Lack of opportunities for growth or advancement (41%)
  • Too heavy a workload (41%)
  • Long hours (37%)
  • Unclear job expectations (35%) 

While this survey definitely serves as interesting fodder, it's probably not all that surprising. Still, it reminds me of how often people use the expression "mental health day" to describe the simple need to get away from the office and recharge their batteries. With more and more data to back up the idea, maybe there's a little more to it. What do you think?

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I used to work for an advertising agency that actually allowed employees a single "Mental Health Day" each year, as part of their benefits package. That was literally the best place I ever worked, and it was consistently voted one of the NorthCoast99, the 99 best places to work in Northeast Ohio. This is one of the reasons. While it was only one day a year, the fact that such a benefit even existed showed employees that the company principals "got it" - they understood that we worked hard and that sometimes we would need to get away. This organization did a lot of other things designed to make work fun and boost morale, and almost every person in that organization worked their butts off and gave it their all.

This is a concept that most employers don't seem to grasp, and the reality of it is so simple to implement, it's a no-brainer. Yet most companies don't even consider it - it doesn't occur to them that a great deal of their issues stem from bad morale. People are underpaid, under-appreciated and undervalued on good days, and disrespected, downtrodden and downright abused, most of the time. It wears on even the most optimistic individual and it does take a toll, both in and out of the office.

I'm not saying that there were never bad days at the agency, but in the 8 years since I left that organization (in a downsize as a result of the economy), I have yet to be as happy at work as I was then. Actually, I have yet to be happy at work at all, since those days, and actually went back to school to get my counseling license because it became more and more apparent that that environment is so rare, as to be found literally once in an employee's lifetime.

When you wonder what's wrong with America, check out Corporate America; it is the root of most evils in our society, not the least of which is mental health problems.

Nick Zubko

Associate Editor

Nick Zubko

@BH_Zubko

www.behavioral.net

Nick Zubko is associate editor of Behavioral Healthcare.