We’re aware that for all business owners, the majority of days – and plenty of nights as well – will be spent juggling multiple balls connected to customers, products, services, payroll, health and safety, suppliers, marketing… the list goes on! And even with the best systems in place, we have all experienced what can happen when one or more of those balls hits the shop floor.
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of business is in fact the human element. In particular with employees coming in all shapes, sizes and personalities it is inevitable that moods and quirks such as annoyance, closing ranks, rumour-mongering, impatience, loud jokiness and virtual invisibility will be on display at various times amid your staff. But what if these ‘quirks’ represent symptoms of mental illness in particular staff, such as depression, anxiety or mood disorders? And further – how do we gauge if the presence of mental illness has any connection to a workplace bullying situation?
We provide some guidance below on how to sensitively identify some basic characteristics of mental illness in the workplace. Once you have some certainty around this development, you might also uncover meaningful connections between the illness suffered and pockets of workplace bullying.
Match Symptoms with Time
Most workplaces thrive on some version of cyclical ‘peaks and troughs’, with outputs tied to the passage of regular events. Take many retailers, conference venues, primary producers and accountancy firms as examples. For them Christmas, show-time, harvest and tax requirements can all mark moments when staff develop various excited, irritable, demanding and adrenalin-fuelled bursts of energy – plus the inevitable depressive lag in the aftermath! And in the majority of cases there is no cause for concern with the development of these very human characteristics at work.
But the time to be aware of something ‘more’ occurring for a staff member is when their mood or behaviour doesn’t match with any time-related situation that you are aware of. In a seeming lull for the business, mental illness in an employee might manifest in social withdrawal, absenteeism/ presenteeism, uncharacteristic productivity changes, personality shifts, crying or deep irritation with others. Most medical diagnoses require a period of some weeks with symptoms before a mental illness such as anxiety, depression or a mood disorder can be found. We all have bad days. But by matching time with symptom development over 1-3 weeks business owners can start to gauge if mental illness might be involved.
Monitor Sectional Changes
Another key way to detect characteristics of mental illness in the workplace is to regularly undertake a psychological ‘temperature’ test in all divisions in the company. By this we mean taking the time to gauge the general cooperation, enjoyment, productivity, communication and team cohesion that exists in each section and/or team. This crucial element of workplace health can be investigated by trained workplace professionals or – if you have the time and skills – by personally walking the floor on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind however that those experiencing or causing mental illness symptoms way be unlikely to share personal information with the boss!
Interestingly, this business-wide mental health monitoring can often reveal potential bullying cases. The cliché can exist of the depressed low-level worker crying because s/he is ‘depressed’ about work. But increasingly, unwell managers who are left unchecked and unassisted in their own mental distress can cause bullying-related damage to those around them – as well as complex injury claims. Manifestations of chronic anxiety as well as hyper/hypomania on the spectrum of bipolarity can include extraordinary energy, feelings of superiority, fast and confident speech, delusions of grandeur and savage irritability when annoyed, to name just some of the characteristics of these harsh and unforgiving mental conditions. The quietly weeping worker might indeed be suffering depression; yet so might the demanding, manic, laughing, busy, insufferable manager with the timid and miserable staff beneath her.
Making wellness your business
And we know that at the end of the day, injury caused in the work context isn’t a matter of blaming the worker who manifested mental illness. Bullying coming off the back of a mental illness that has gone unnoticed will still be a problem for business owners themselves to rectify. Whether via professional investigation or internal monitoring, take the time to carefully deduce if a worker is simply having an ‘off day’ – or if something more complex is involved. At Wise Workplace we can help you investigate possible workplace bullying, plus provide you with positive strategies for monitoring the overall mental health of your workplace.