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Understanding mental health in the workplace

The technological boom has created new demands on workers in this new economy. From the receptionist at that law office down the street to the fast-food worker serving up fries, people are being pushed to deliver customer service at all costs in this consumer-driven society. This demand on the individual worker, at some point, results in a workforce whose mental health is affected.

Long hours, heavier workloads,and more responsibilities contribute to the phenomena of stress at work. Statistics show that at least 65 percent of the workforce, a 25 percent increase since 2000, finds their job stressful at times, according to a survey compiled by the American Psychological Association. The same organization found that at least a third of the workforce feels that the number one source of stress in their lives is their jobs.This is not good for the modern worker because, over time, the effects of stress are manifested in a person’s ability to perform their job and be productive, and more significantly, these stressors manifest themselves in health problems ranging from weight gain to hypertension.

One of the central issues contributing to stress in the workplace is the demands placed upon the worker, but while the individual is stressed, employers are also affected. Other stressors include:

  • Increasing responsibilities.
  • Lack of opportunities for growth.
  • Work that does not challenge the employee.
  • Lack of support.
  • Unclear goals and objectives.
  • Lack of control over major decisions.

This stress affects the entire organization because employees might call in sick to avoid being in the stressful environment. While at work, the individual becomes distracted and cannot concentrate on their work, which reduces productivity. Contributing to the reduction in productivity is the fact that individuals cannot make good decisions. Workplace stress makes people moody and saps them of energy. Short-term, if the problems are addressed and the employee is supported, the employee goes back to being productive. Conversely, if the problem is ignored over a long time, all of these minuses subtract from the employee’s overall performance.

Research in this area is important for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, research helps with diagnosing and addressing problems early before the stress escalates to disrespectful and violent behaviors. More importantly, research helps experts determine whether or not a particular course of action is successful or not. Research into mental health can identify risk factors to intervene on behalf of the worker. Finally, through research, those who manage employee health and welfare can determine cost-effective ways to address the problem on both the individual and the organizational level. Integral to addressing these issues is helping employers learn and understand how to manage stress in the workplace.

The root of helping those overcome stress in the workplace starts with understanding the underlying issues related to human behavior. The subject is one that is vast, very complicated, and cannot be covered in just one workshop with credentialed counselors. Those working in psychology need to have a real interest in helping others overcome the tragedy of not being able to perform the duties of their job because of daily stress, regardless of where it hails. On the psychology side of it, those interested in the subject could approach education in two ways.There is clinical psychology, which involves treating patients, either as a counselor or a psychiatrist. For a person to counsel or treat patients, they need post-graduate work, and for psychiatry, they must earn a medical degree to prescribe medication. Then, there is the research side of psychology, which involves research related to human behavior on the individual level, or applied psychology. Usually, those employed in this field work in academia, other private research institutes,or government organizations. The education involved with researching and studying human behavior culminates in a master’s degree. Most psychology departments in academia offer a degree in this area. However, those working with organizations should find graduate programs that specialize in this area – for example, the University of Southern California (USC). USC offers a master’s program in applied psychology that focuses on a mix of organizational psychology and consumer psychology, which culminates in a master of science in applied psychology.

Researchers and research are necessary in understanding and managing mental health in the workplace. Because of the fast-paced, consumer-driven, ever-increasing workload that workers face in this current economy, it is only natural that some succumb to the stress of being overwhelmed by an ever-demanding workload. Ultimately, workers are the agents of productivity for organizations, and if workers on the individual level cannot perform for whatever reason, then productivity is affected, which at some point affects everybody.