Of all the devastating effects of the lack of perfect mental health, the economic fallouts of illness or being unproductive at work seem vaguely disrespectful to begin with. Mental health affects physical wellbeing, personal life, and social equilibrium, but politeness dictates we ignore how an individual’s psychological space affects the takings of a company or their own ability to perform well at work. The truth may be vastly different. All working individuals spend more than 6 hours in their workplaces. Serious mental illness may result from a combination of problems in an office (lack of like-minded colleagues, a toxic work culture, or unequal treatment). The nature of a job itself might lead to chronic mental conditions. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that an illness engendered by workplace conditions will transform workplace conditions. Absenteeism – not coming to work – will become a commonplace for people suffering from poor mental health. Added to this are the increased risks of consistent lateness, unproductivity and turnover.
Presenteeism is also a problem: attending work while being ill reduces productivity and affects overall work quality. Productivity issues may not be the most pressing effect of mental illness, but it is all-pervasive and serious. This is not a new insight, since the Covid pandemic gave all of us a measure of knowledge about how difficult it is to optimize our performance in any area without taking extra steps to protect ourselves from the onslaught of everyday things like the daily news, doomscrolling, and several related anxieties. The terrible two years were a lesson in identifying and treating simple worries when they begin. And although ink has been spilled on the link between mental health and productivity, the situation hasn’t gotten any better.
As of now, there’s an urgent necessity to figure out how to combat this looming crisis. There is no surefire cure to what ails our stress, but discussing it ensures baby steps towards a complete recovery are being taken.
Before any further complicated methods are considered, let’s begin with a well-known proverb. Prevention is the best cure. It’s a cliche, and for good reason. We need to make sure that the problem never arises in the first place. A healthy work culture, open-door management policies, and (for high-stress roles) access to therapy go a long way to nipping the problem in the bud. This is possible only when companies take the workplace crisis seriously.
Certain measures have to be looked at and rethought. If a job doesn’t need 8-hour attendance at the office, it can be a remote role. The only issue guiding management decisions here should be employee convenience. Whether it’s a 100% remote work option, or a hybrid work culture, employees have to be given a certain amount of flexibility. Without this flexibility, absenteeism might not necessarily crop up, but what’s recently being known as ‘quiet quitting’ occurs. Sensing a lack of empathy from the big chairs, employees resort to keeping their own peace by silently giving up on the company.
The opposite – displaying a complete sense of trust in your employees – makes work easier. Valuable employees have reasons beyond money to dedicate time to the workplace.
Of course, it is necessary to maintain accountability whether at home or in an office – there are numerous ways of checking in on people’s productivity rates without being hyper-aggressive about presenteeism and absenteeism. Work quality is the first major marker of someone’s ability to deliver good work, and a simple conversation also works wonders. Communicating about any potential reduced work performance is a green flag for healthy in-office interaction. Being curious about employees’ life outside work can also work.
Productivity isn’t a one-size-fits-all case. It’s important for companies to be open to less traditional approaches to work. If possible, try remote-first roles in the office. Numerous studies suggest that employees are more productive while working from home, so if your product/service allows it, try a remote-first approach.
If you are in a managerial role or the CEO of the company, now is the best time to ask yourself if your work culture is breeding negativity: Employee mental health also depends on job security and work stress. Micromanagement makes every process longer and harder for employees. Open communication, eliminating stress triggers, and viewing mental wellness as an actual business advantage promise to make a big difference to the current situation.
Piyush Kedia is the founder and CEO of BlueVector and InCommon. While building one of India’s leading creative agencies with BlueVector, Piyush realized his mission of creating a win-win situation for brands, agencies and creative professionals. With his new venture InCommon, Piyush is helping companies build highly specialized, offshore, remote teams.
He writes about productivity, conscious leadership and learnings from building a creative agency.