How Mental Health Affects Your Performance at Work (and How to Talk about It with Your Boss)

03 May, 2021

Take a moment to look around your office. Do you think you could identify which colleagues are struggling with mental health issues, if any? Most people would answer ‘probably not’.

Surprisingly, almost half (45%) of all Australians will be affected by mental illness at some point in their life. Furthermore, 20% of Australians will experience a mental illness this year. 

Now Look around your office again. Statistically, one in two of your colleagues have or will experience a mental illness, and one in five are currently experiencing a mental illness this year. 

The odds are, that mental health issues are already prevalent in your team and impacting performance. The question then becomes, how do we identify these individuals and provide support for them?

Let’s explore this further.

Common signs of mental health issues in the workplace

Mental illness is an insidious beast. The mind is good at hiding its problems, from its owner and others. Consequently, to mitigate the impact of mental health on work performance, it’s important to identify tell-tale signs which may suggest an individual is struggling with their mental health. Here’s what you can look out for:

  • An inability to concentrate or think: The mind struggles to perform at its best when it is chemically imbalanced. Look for an inability to focus on a single task, or think rationally through problems.
  • Excessive worry: Mental illness can see the mind hyper focusing on issues, even if they are trivial. Excessive worry is a common sign of anxiety and depression which should trigger a red flag.
  • Lethargy and tiredness: Fighting your own mind is a taxing pursuit. Constant feelings of lethargy and tiredness are strong indicators of mental health issues. Is someone constantly late to meetings or not completing tasks on time.
  • Overreaction to simple tasks: When a mind is suffering, it can tend to make mountains out of molehills as a way to vent other frustrations. A questionable reaction to a reasonable request can indicate deeper issues. Look out for extreme reactions.
  • Hostility: With the brain fighting itself, it makes sense this conflict might extend to others. Displays of unprovoked hostility, particularly in conjunction with other indicators on this list, can be a sign of mental health issues.
  • Physical effects: When mental illness is acute, symptoms can begin to show elsewhere. The brain almost tricks the body into tangible symptoms. Constant stress can cause physical effects like headaches, nausea, skin problems, etc. and when recurring can be an indicator of mental health issues.
  • Inflexibility: If chaos reigns within the brain, it follows that a worker would like some order outside of it. If a colleague is unwilling to stray from a set path is another potential subtle sign of mental illness.

Now that we have an idea of what to look for, what do we do when we see it?

How to talk about mental health with your boss

No matter who it concerns, conversations around mental health often feel uncomfortable and to some degree taboo. Perhaps this is why recognition of such important issues have only come to the fore in recent years. However, increased awareness brings comfort, and the more open people are, the less taboo such conversations become. Consequently, they are incredibly important to have. Here’s how:

  • Pick the right person: First, check who your company would like you to speak to; your manager, your HR department or even an external support person. Second, identify who you’d feel most comfortable speaking to, someone you trust and respect. Doing what’s right for you is more important than any company policy.
  • Identify objectives: Think about what you want or need from this conversation. Identify the issues you want to address, how you want to present them and think about potential resolutions to overcome them. This can be as simple as just asking for help.
  • Find the right time and place: When and where would you feel most comfortable having this conversation? Perhaps a less formal setting beyond the four walls of the workplace, and/or outside of office hours. This environment will ultimately depend on the type of relationship you have with the person you choose to open up with.
  • Continue the dialogue: After you’ve had the initial conversation, be sure to retain open lines of communication for support, and work towards a resolution. If the conversation is about yourself, be sure to prioritise your mental health over your job. Hopefully, after the initial conversation, you’ll now feel like you don’t have to choose between the two.

Mental health is far more prevalent than most people think and its impact on performance profound. Statistics tell us that in an office of 20, nine workers will face issues at some point, and four will face them this year. Mental illness isn’t the exception in the workplace, it’s the rule.

As such it’s vital that employees feel comfortable raising issues, and that employers support them in doing so. It is in the company’s best interests, after all.

Are you an organisation that wants to build a supportive and mentally healthy environment for its team members? Ignite can help! Contact our friendly team today.