Employee mental health and workforce productivity

Humans are a product of mental and physical elements, as the total health and well-being of an individual is ultimately premised on the interaction that exists between these two elements. Work is often conceived in African aphorisms as an antidote to poverty – a leverage for upward social mobility. It is also a primary determinant of socioeconomic position and plays a vital role in the mental and physical well-being of the individual. Mental health is aptly understood as a state of well-being, the ability of an individual to realise his or her potential, adapt to the everyday stressors of life, work productively and fruitfully, and make a vital social and economic contribution to his or her society. The significance of employees’ mental health in enhancing workplace productivity cannot be overruled.

Sensitization of employees on the importance of mental health and how they can avoid being a victim of mental illness is also important. Mental health is important because it allows individuals to cope with the workplace and setbacks in their lives by allowing workers to effectively balance home and work challenges. Positive mental health at work allows teams to remain agile during dynamic roles and responsibilities by boosting resilience as well as reaching the highest potential. With all these accolades, studies that examine workplace mental health and employee productivity are still in their infancy stage. Available evidence from organisational psychology noted that workers who experience positive mental health and outstanding psychological capital are more fulfilled, committed, and productive. This implies that negative mental health has a higher tendency to jeopardise workplace productivity.

Underpinning the above view, available findings from the World Health Organisation estimated that an average of US$1 trillion is lost globally to mental health. In Nigeria, the subject matter of mental health is often culturally evaded as many individuals are less inclined to discuss it publicly. The reality however is that mental health statistics in Nigeria are alarming and worrisome. A report published by the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program abounds that the prevalence rate of workplace mental illness in Nigeria is within the range of 30%-50%. Research has further implicated that of the 174 million population, 64 million Nigerians suffered from one form of mental illness or the other. The above fact not only connotes that mental health is a complex social and psychological issue but also a critical issue for human resources managers and the workplace entirely.

The workplace as often conceived is a platform for different psychological experiences as it helps in providing a sense of time structure, developing a mutual social contract and sense of collective purpose, forging social identity outside the family, and maintaining a high level of consistent social and economic activity. This also implies that the workplace is a place where most workers spend most of their daily activities. Despite the relative importance accorded to the workplace, it is pertinent to note that unrealistic and outrageous sales targets, unemployment, excessive workload and overstress have been observed as some of the major causes of depreciative mental and psychological disorders of many employees.

Another issue accounting for the high rate of employees’ mental health is the lack of job security. While we cannot dispute the fact that organizations are constantly sourcing for employees that could move the vision and mission of the organization forward, it is also evident that the consciousness/anxiety workers have in the course of their daily activities due to lack of job security could lead to mental distress and low productivity. The role of employee interaction is vital to the day-to-day activities of any organisation. Situations where interactions and interpersonal relations in the organization are problematic, particularly in terms of conflicts, exclusion by superiors or co-workers and lack of social support could potentially hamper an individual mental and social well-being.

In light of the foregoing discourse, promoting mental health means addressing those problems that impede the physical and mental well-being of employees. This begins with rationalizing the notion of mental health in the organisation not only as a ‘use and dump approach’ but also as a panacea against depression, burnout/stress, poor performance, workplace incidents, absenteeism, low motivation, poor decision making and poor relationship with colleagues. Furthermore, sensitization of employees on the importance of mental health and how they can avoid being a victim of mental illness is also important. This comes with infusing mental health awareness day into the core values of the organisation. In addition to this, training managers and workers on how they can cultivate a harmonious relationship with each other through flexible organization policies that give room for equity, diversity, inclusion, employees’ voices, opinions, and feedback becomes a necessity. Furthermore, a re-examination of health insurance policies with a focus on employees’ mental health is essential in safeguarding the mental health of employees.

Corroborating the above view, the use of soft human resources management which tends to treat employees as a resource and not a commodity is pivotal to employee’s well-being. This involves empowering and allowing workers to pursue their professional interests and options to choose when and how they want to work. Though equipping employees with the necessary skills needed to manage their daily stress and ability to handle the inevitable challenges that affect their mental health comes with huge financial costs and energy, the cost of failing to support employees’ mental and social well-being is often far higher than what organisations can imagine/quantify. This invariably means that employees with high levels of stress are more likely to miss work and show lower engagement and commitment while at work, which can negatively affect the general sustainability of the whole organisational structure.


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