That is the implication of a new study released by the Canadian Conference Board and reported in the Canadian press (see source note caveat below). The report title was: Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces.
I haven't read the full report,* but the data look good. They surveyed over a thousand people and did a fair number of in-depth interviews. They surveyed almost 500 executive managers and slightly more workers.
Here is the big finding: while 82% of managers said that their company "promotes" a psychologically healthy workplace, 70% of workers said they didn't.
It's a huge disconnect in perceptions, and it makes you wonder if management ever really "gets it."
Workers know when they are suffering from psychological health issues and they know what their organization did or did not do to help. Their perceptions can be trusted.
I have written before about studies showing that managers typically do not pay enough attention to the people they supervise. They are usually too busy paying attention to the people above them, those who can affect their careers. This study is consistent with that observation, and in addition, it says that the managers aren't even aware of the problem. They apparently think everything is OK and that things are being well-handled.
Karla Thorpe, the lead author on the project told the press that "managers are actually very confident in their skills and abilities to help employees ... they say they're very comfortable having conversations with their staff" about personal concerns and difficulties. Most of the employees interviewed thought the opposite. Most of them said that their supervisors don't know much about mental health issues or psychological difficulties. They don't talk to the workers and the workers are not comfortable talking to them.
For this study, "mental health issues" were broadly defined and included "ordinary" depression, stress and anxiety disorders. Some people surveyed had experienced significant mental illness. Whatever the case, it is certain that many of them were troubled because of workplace stress and that it was a productivity problem for most of them. When people are not healthy, they don't perform as well, even though it costs the same to employ them.
This is a fundamental issue with respect to organizational competence.
Organizations invest in human talent and can't afford to waste it. Ignoring the health of the worker goes right to the bottom line. In the workplace, psychological health is the big cost factor when it comes to safety and productivity. That is where the big money is lost or saved.
In Canada, just like in the U.S., the majority of those who can't work and have to take time off because of health concerns are taking time off on disability because of psychological problems. There are huge numbers of people who suffer work related psychological troubles in any given year.
Most managers believe that they are competently managing the well-being of their workers. Only 26% of workers would say that their supervisor "effectively manages mental health issues."
The importance and the cost to every organization is such that for a manager, this should be a fundamental competency, tending effectively to the human talent.
For the study's authors, the take away message is that an organization cannot afford to waste talent and that there are steps to be taken. There are various ways organizations should be proactive in reducing the stigma, preventing hostility and retaliation, and providing support.
The prescription is all good and sensible, but it doesn't go far enough.
Yes, people should be cared for effectively. Whether it is because of organizational values or just the bottom line concerns, companies have to assume some responsibility to help their workers.
It is not enough, however, to help them when they are troubled. You need to help them when they are well and to keep them psychologically healthy. At least half of the time, when a worker is becoming emotionally disabled it's about something that's going on at work. It could also be something that is happening at home because of something gone bad at work.
The critical action step to be taken by an effective manager in a competent organization is to make certain that workplace stress factors are properly managed and resolved.
It's not about too much work or too many deadlines. It's about the things in the workplace that demoralize people and drain the satisfaction from work.
People suffer from work when they have complaints that no one will listen to or problems that no one will solve. It's when they say to themselves, "why won't someone take care of this?!" that they start to go mad. People lose faith in the organization when management doesn't solve things or take care of stuff. People start to wonder if things will change and why they are working there.
People cannot deal with stress when it doesn't seem worth it, and that's when it costs the organization.
The Canadian study supports the idea that a psychologically healthy workplace is good for business. This is well known. What they have identified, however, is something more. It's a fundamental flaw in the business or organizational model. What they have shown is that management does not understand the problem, and even worse, they don't know that they don't understand it. They don't know that they don't know what to do.
The report argues that organizations should do more to support workers who are hurt or harmed psychologically. I would argue that organizations should do more to keep them from harm.
*There is a hefty fee to read the 74 page report. This article is based on the press released summary from the Canadian business think tank.