How to spot and prevent mental illness and stress in the office

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Editor's note: This story first appeared on our UK site.

A couple of months ago, eFinancialCareers reported on a Webinar given by Goldman Sachs’ head of wellness Patrick Watt. Watt didn’t beat around the bush: mental health issues are one of the main problems at the firm in London. Coupled with muscular skeletal complaints, they’re the big reason Goldman Sachs’ staff take time off.

This is in line with the findings of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development. According to the CIPD, stress, anxiety and mild depressions are the main causes of long-term sickness absence in employees.

You don’t have to be a clinical psychologist to spot stress in the workplace. The key indicators, for any form of mental health problem, include:

  • An unexplained absence or change in performance.
  • A lack of energy and communication.
  • Problems juggling multiple tasks.

As the economic climate worsens, workloads have increased along with insecurity. People are coming into work even if they feel unable to cope. In an organization that’s under pressure, stress can become pervasive – one person shouting at another or offloading work at the last moment merely transmits stress down the line.

Stress builds when an individual has too many demands placed upon them, insufficient control and insufficient support. It’s worsened when their role is unclear and it’s not obvious which part they play, or how they contribute to the organization as a whole. Stress, anxiety and depression are compounded when an individual has a sense of meaningless and drift. This is often exacerbated by poor performance management: people need targets and a sense that they can reach their targets in order to achieve good mental health.

Adrian Wakeling is senior guidance editor at Acas and author of Acas’ first guide, drawn up with the NHS, on managing mental health at work.

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