Understanding the Relationship Between Mental Health and Workplace Productivity

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Understanding the Relationship Between Mental Health and Workplace Productivity

The Coronavirus took a significant toll on employee mental health. According to a Qualtrics study of more than 2,000 employees from March to April 2020, 42 percent of people believe their mental health declined since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

As employees attempted to find stability at the start of the pandemic, productivity declined. That study also found 28 percent of workers reported difficulty concentrating, and 20 percent said tasks took longer to complete.

This highlights the critical relationship between mental health and a productive workplace. Here are a few things to keep in mind as an HR manager or business leader as you look to return to pre-pandemic productivity levels. 

Remote Work Does Not Decrease Productivity

A lot happened at the start of the pandemic. Not only the shared massive work from home (WFH) experiment, but local businesses closed (including gyms and other places of personal solace). Schools went virtual, and many cities went into some form of lockdown.

As such, most workers experienced significant disruptions in all aspects of life, understandably leading to a decline in workplace effectiveness.

Remote work isn’t necessarily the cause of changing performance levels. Owl Labs 4th annual State of Remote Work report found that 77 percent of respondents thought working from home would make them happier after the pandemic ended.

What’s more, 23 percent of full-time employees are willing to take a pay cut of 10 percent or more to work from home at least part of the time.  

It’s not just employees who stand to benefit from remote work; 74 percent of survey respondents said they’re more likely to stay with an employer that allows them to work from home. Moreover, WFH could also help with recruiting, as 59 percent said they would choose one potential company over another due to remote options. 

Consider how your employees handled remote work in the past six months—not just in the early months of the pandemic. If their productivity increased, it’s likely because the stress from the pandemic’s first few weeks passed as your team member’s adapted and became more comfortable and happy working from home.  

American Workers Were Already Stressed

While it’s easy to pin current stress levels on COVID-19, Americans experienced high-stress levels before the pandemic—which means their concerns likely aren’t going to fade away once it ends. 

A 2019 survey by Gallup reported that 55 percent of Americans reported feeling stressed, while 45 percent said they feel worried a lot. 

Even if the pandemic were to end next month, your team members would still likely report high-stress levels. Not only are your workers concerned about their own careers and lives, but the financial situations and lives of their loved ones.

Understanding the pervasive nature of stress can help you mitigate causing any unnecessary work-related anxieties. 

Poor Mental Health Can Lead to Physical Issues

Whether your team plans to go back to the office or not, mental wellness still needs to be a key component for managing employees. Our mental state affects how we think, feel, and work. Not only can poor mental health lead to lower productivity, but it can also lead to higher rates of absenteeism due to physical issues.

According to the experts at HealthMarkets, stress can lead to: 

  • Heart disease and hypertension
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Digestion issues

Another recent survey from Ginger.io found 43 percent of employees reported becoming physically ill due to workplace stress. 

Bottom line, poor mental health leads to physical manifestations, which hinders your teams’ performance. 

Promoting overall wellness starts with focusing on mental health. As a manager, you can make sure employees aren’t experiencing stress due to their roles and responsibilities. Explain mental health benefits and encourage staff to take advantage of them, which brings us to our next section.

Offer Employees Mental Health Support 

When it comes to mental health support, don’t hesitate to offer assistance or simply start the conversation. The Qualtrics study reported that 57 percent of workers are comfortable with their manager asking them about their mental health and 41 percent want them to ask. Yet, many leadership teams are falling short. According to the Ginger.io survey, 63 percent of workers think their company could do more to support their mental health.

Workers also felt like companies that invest in employee mental health will be more resilient, with 93 percent of respondents agreeing that “companies that survive COVID-19 will be those who support their employees’ mental health.”

This also ties back to the Owl Labs survey mentioned earlier. Workers who feel cared for will give back to employers with loyalty and increased productivity. 

Check-in with your team, ask them how they’re doing. Most importantly, help them understand their benefits and the mental health support that’s available. Encourage those struggling to take PTO and seek assistance. 

Prioritize Mental Health to Increase Productivity

Too often, managers try to optimize employee workflows in order to increase productivity, especially in this WFH environment. However, sometimes the answer to increasing productivity isn’t to push forward but rather to step back.

Focusing on the mental health of your team members can increase their longevity and make them more resilient in times of crisis. 

The pandemic has taught employers and employees a lot about each other. Teams understand how their leadership addresses and supports mental health, while employers comprehend how stress limits productivity.

Hopefully, we remember these lessons long after the pandemic ends and create a healthier workplace. 

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