The idea of being able to deal with stress and mental health issues in the workplace is not a new concept to researchers and academics, but according to Dr Amanda Biggs of the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, the stigma for the average worker is still very real.
“Admitting to feeling stressed at the lowest level up to admitting that you have experienced mental illness is highly stigmatised,” Dr Biggs said.
Dr Biggs says that the stigmatisation can especially be seen in occupations where workers believe that admitting that they are stressed or having mental health issues can lead to some change in their job or duties:
“If you’re responsible for groups of people, or if you have to have access to firearms as part of your job [in the case of police officers], sometimes admitting to stress can affect your actual role.”
The same can be said for workers in occupations where there is a feeling that you need to be tough to do your job or hide your emotions. According to Dr Biggs, that leads to more pressure on workers to hide what they are going through:
“That’s a really big problem because it encourages people to hide their feelings and hide their experiences, so instead of seeking help they try to hide what they are going through and that tends to exacerbate the issue.”
When enough pressure is built on an employee, that can lead to heavy compensation costs and the expense of the organisation:
“They only amount to 2 per cent of compensation claims, but they’re the most expensive,” Amanda adds.
“The reason is when people take time away from work and take a compensation claim, the time away is so much longer because it’s so hard for people who are really stressed to come back to work because the problem has escalated for so long.”
The best way managers can address this is in the workplace is to encourage education and awareness about stress and mental health, including discussions and addressing any organisational myths regarding role changes due to stress.
A hurdle is that some organisations have concerns that simply talking about stress encourages more people to come forward that they are stressed, and even some may be encouraged to fake stress symptoms for compensation – a myth according to Dr Biggs:
“Either that doesn’t happen, or it does happen, but it’s because people are freer to say they’re stressed quicker. It’s actually better in the long run because it means the organisation can deal with it quickly and it doesn’t escalate. “
Dr Biggs believes if organisations take these steps then it can be an important step in ending the stigma of stress and mental health issues in the workplace:
“While I would say it’s definitely improved as not a lot of people were talking about stress 15 years ago, there’s still a lot of places where it’s not something that’s really owned up to.”