Mental health’s impact on company health: What leaders need to know

Emerging as one of the key issues in the workplace that is likely to have a significant impact on a company’s performance, growth and productivity, is the mental and emotional well-being of the people who work there. And it’s up to the leaders to figure out ways to deal with this.

It’s not unusual in organizations of any size (from start-up to large publicly traded), that some employees will experience and suffer from a measure of stress and/or anxiety. Of course I’m not advocating that this should be considered a norm – it shouldn’t – but the reality is that many, if not most people, live with some measure of stress, whether it be work-related, personal or both.

Now throw a global pandemic into the mix, with people being required to work, school, and live at home, facing massive and constant uncertainty in often tremendously challenging circumstances, and the stress bubble comes close to bursting. Top this off with job-related challenges such as problematic relationships with co-workers, funding issues, salary sacrifices…The list is infinite, and the stress constantly compounding.

Breaking news! (Not really of course): Two things that don’t co-exist comfortably are 1) stressed-out employees and (2) high quality work.

Even in the distant past of about a year ago – what used to be considered ‘normal’ times – it was understood that when people suffer from anxiety, they are likely to be somewhat to significantly less effective and productive than their more laidback colleagues.

This was one of the main reasons for bringing in the lovely wellness programs that became standard in many large organisations all over the world in recent years. Work hard, but then go to a free yoga class during your lunch break, and all will be well.

Fast forward to where we find ourselves now in the winter of our Covid discontent, with corporate wellness programs on ice, and no respite from the back-to-back Zoom calls interspersed with unloading the dishwasher and doing math with the first-grader. Where watching Netflix doesn’t involve much of the chill of before…

As 2021 kicks off, with only a glimmer of a large-scale vaccine rollout on the horizon, and increasing restrictions and lockdowns here and across the world where the pandemic has reared its second ugly and apparently voluminous head, employees are fatigued, frazzled, and desperately needing help to manage their work-lives and, in more instances than ever before, their mental health.

Most of us are pretty over it. Some of us are quite a bit more over it than others. And these are the people who need your support as a leader.

Don’t leave this thing to its own devices, don’t hope for it to pass or work itself out. It’s time now for leaders to tackle this issue, first by accepting that it exists, and then by taking the problem on as seriously as they would any other challenge that could severely impact the growth and sustainability of an organisation. After all, the people are what makes the organisation, so their wellbeing should be the first priority of an organisation always.

The solutions are not to be found in the HR department (they’re over-stretched in a big way already, and probably also need the assistance we’re talking about here). And there isn’t yet a playbook or manual, or business school materials covering this novel phenomenon.

What we’re talking about here is new, it’s real and it needs to be handled with empathy and creativity. In other words, it needs leaders. To lead.