Don't Let Work Stress Affect Your Mental Wellbeing
The first annual World Mental Health Day was celebrated on October 10 in 1992 following an initiative by the World Federation for Mental Health. Since then, it offers people all over the world a chance to spread awareness on mental health issues and the effect they have on people’s lives. Let’s use this opportunity to take a closer look at how office stress can affect the mental health of working professionals all over the world, and what can be done to negate its harmful effects.
The Hidden Dangers Of Workplace Stress
You might not notice the effect workplace stress has on your life outside the office, but it has a wider reach than you realise. Leaving the workplace in a bad mood because of your terrible boss or a presentation that didn’t go well leads to you being short-tempered with your friends and family, who then spread that negativity among their social circle. This creates an unhealthy environment around you that is slowly taking a toll on your mental health.
This workplace stress arises from a toxic work environment. According to the WHO, this is caused by a high and unrelenting workload or harassment by colleagues. It manifests itself in the form of both psychological and physical problems. One such problem is the lack of sleep, as evidenced by a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology in April 2018. This leads to a drop in productivity while also leaving the employee open to a whole host of illnesses and diseases like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Another study entitled ‘The Mental Health Experience In Canada’s Workplaces’ collected inputs from 1,575 working professionals and found that workplace stress was a leading cause of mental health illnesses in the country. At 34 per cent, mental health issues due to office stress were found to be on par with those caused by other serious medical issues such as depression (37 per cent) and anxiety (32 per cent).
Where Is It Most Common?
According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research in April 2017, the issue of workplace stress is most common in low and middle-income countries with the largest population in working age groups. Not only do these countries continue to lag behind in conducting or identifying suitable interventions, they often don’t have adequate policies in place to prevent discrimination against employees with mental disorders.
This makes the Asia-Pacific region a prime target for these issues, as Aon's ‘APAC Benefits Strategy Study 2017’ reveals. According to the study, 72 per cent of employers in Singapore view mental issues as a concern, but only half of the organisations actually have emotional and psychological wellness programmes in place. The study also revealed that only 62 per cent of firms have plans to implement such programmes in the future, a figure six points lower than the Asia Pacific average.
Similarly, Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Staying@Work survey showed that 33 per cent Asia Pacific organisations have an articulated health and productivity strategy, and only 13 per cent have an articulated measurement strategy. In contrast, the global average stands at 22 per cent. Less than 10 per cent of employees consider the impact of health and wellbeing programmes on costs, employees’ health risks or productivity. The survey stated inadequate staffing, low pay and a lack of work-life balance as the top three causes for workplace stress.
Another problem related to workplace stress and its related mental health issues is public unwillingness to discuss them. According to a review published in Psychological Medicine, individuals often delay the act of seeking help to deal with their mental health issues. The review covered 90,189 participants across 144 studies and disclosed that internalised and treatment-related stigma was most often associated with reduced help-seeking.
What Can Be Done About It?
Global organisations like the WHO are actively involved in providing support to those who need it while also putting mechanisms in place to identify mental health issues stemming from workplace stress. Its Global Plan of Action on Worker’s Health (2008-2017) and Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2020) outline relevant principles, objectives and implementation strategies to promote good mental health in the workplace at the international level. These include addressing social determinants of mental health such as living standards and working conditions, activities for prevention and promotion of health and mental health, and increasing access to evidence-based care.
At a smaller scale, there are steps an employee can also take to avoid taking workplace stress back home with them. Researchers at the University of Central Florida say exercising during the work day helps you leave your work stress at the office. According to their study, workers who remained active at work by taking phone calls and meetings on the move and discarded sending emails to colleagues on the same floor in favour of walking over and having a conversation were in much better moods when they returned home. They noted that people who logged 11,000 steps during the day and seven to nine hours of sleep in the night not only had better mental health but also burned 587 extra calories and thus improved their physical health as well.