Work and Mental Health: The Harder-to-Quantify Elements

Workplace stress influences performance at work and behavior at home as well as both mental and physical health. Awareness has been on the rise in recent months. Researchers have looked at the specific stressors of specific vocations (ranging from surgeons to teachers), as well as specific logistical factors of a workplace that may put employees at risk for high stress and mental health issues. Many of the factors that increase workplace stress are fairly intuitive: long hours, high levels of competition, and threat of layoff to name a few. Likewise, initiatives such as work-sponsored stress counselors have proven to help alleviate some of these psychological burdens. But what about factors that are harder to quantify: how do we identify additional causes of psychological burden, and then what do we do to help?

One such burden is responsibility, which is often seen as a good thing; most of the time, it is. Having responsibilities increases feelings of self-worth and value to the company, and can provide a sense of accomplishment when goals are met. But responsibility can also be stressful, especially when the well-being of others’ is directly tied to one’s own duties. So it’s not just the top-level executives who feel the weight of responsibility: warehouse supervisors are just as likely to carry this burden. A study from Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) finds that the more invested a person is in their job, and the more responsible they are, the higher their stress. This alone is enough to justify the expense of work-based stress counseling services and the inclusion of mental health coverage in employee health plans. After all, from a business perspective, having your most conscientious, invested, and responsible employees at the greatest risk for burnout is not good.

It’s not just psychological risk factors like “investment” and “sense of responsibility” that are hard to quantify. Some of the positive psychological factors of a workplace are equally difficult to pin down. Autonomy is a great example. Workers who feel free to make their own choices at work are consistently happier and more productive. But “autonomy” looks different in different professions and pay scales, and even varies from culture to culture. These ambiguities are important to keep in mind when assessing workplace culture, and can be part of a well-balanced program to support both mental and physical health at all levels of a company.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • RT

    RT

    January 27th, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    You know every company may have different rules and things may vary depending on the culture or other things.But a thumb rule would be to look for quality and not quantity.A case in point is Google.They have excellent work environment for their employees and they are not sacrificing on the productivity either.That is a win-win situation for all.

  • VANESSA

    VANESSA

    January 27th, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    Job-related stress is something that is impossible to escape from…But that does not mean we can contain it…!

    It is good that knowledge and awareness of the issue is spreading and companies are slowly but surely taking steps in this direction-to provide a good working environment and to look after the stress levels of their employees…

  • Adrian

    Adrian

    January 28th, 2011 at 3:42 AM

    As if the fear of outsourcing and other things were not enough the recession has brought new fears of having a pay cut or being terminated completely. This is sure to have an effect on the psyche of the employees and the firms would do well if they have measures to contain such issues.

  • Laura

    Laura

    January 28th, 2011 at 5:35 AM

    When you have found the perfect fit with your job you just know it. And hopefully most job seekers are aware of the type of workplace environment that they are going to thrive in before even considering a position. I know that this is probably hard if you have been hurt in this economy and are looking to take any job that comes your way but it is still something worth thinking about.

  • william

    william

    January 28th, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    I couldn’t agree more.everybody works the same hours but they surely need to recognize and care for those who are working hard and not just work-place zombies.

  • Natalie R

    Natalie R

    January 29th, 2011 at 5:10 AM

    I’m surprised nobody has spoken of this yet but-I believe if you are happy with your job and what you do on a daily basis,there will be far less stress involved due to your work. Enjoying your work is always a good thing :)

  • webguy

    webguy

    January 29th, 2011 at 3:51 PM

    At my old job, I loved my boss. She was clever, knew how to do her job, and could fill in for any of her subordinates. The only drawback was the poor salary, so I left. My current job? My top goal in my five year life plan is saying the words “You’re fired!” to my current incompetent, overbearing boss. If you like your job, you won’t be stressed out about it, and part of liking your job is liking your boss, isn’t it? I know we can’t guarantee we’ll be compatible personality wise with any boss but it sure makes the working day feel much shorter when you can work well together. I’ve been here four months and it’s abundantly clear I know more than he does. I’m sick of him blundering around making us all look bad.

  • Yvonne

    Yvonne

    January 29th, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    I think some laws were passed in other countries regarding workplace stress and employers were required to do everything they could to cut down on its effects. I certainly haven’t noticed any differences nor heard anything from friends and family about any such initiatives in their workplaces. Once again managers paying lip service to improving employee’s working conditions, I guess.

  • webguy

    webguy

    January 30th, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    At my old job, I loved my boss. She was clever, knew how to do her job, and could fill in for any of her subordinates. The only drawback was the poor salary, so I left. My current job? My top goal in my five year life plan is saying the words “You’re fired!” to my current incompetent, overbearing boss. If you like your job, you won’t be stressed out about it, and part of liking your job is liking your boss, isn’t it? I know we can’t guarantee we’ll be compatible personality wise with any boss but it sure makes the working day feel much shorter when you can work well together. I’ve been here four months and it’s abundantly clear I know more than he does. I’m sick of him blundering around making us all look bad.

  • Adam

    Adam

    January 30th, 2011 at 1:38 PM

    “After all, from a business perspective, having your most conscientious, invested, and responsible employees at the greatest risk for burnout is not good.” Exactly! So why aren’t companies putting more money and time into helping staff handle that stress and just as importantly, finding the source of it within their business? It baffles me why some treat it as a triviality.

  • Shar

    Shar

    January 30th, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    Employers need to be careful about what responsibilities they give to their staff. You can’t tell the janitor to fix the network and expect him to do it. If he could do it, he wouldn’t be emptying your trash out every day. Be crystal clear about your expectations, the job spec and the staff’s ability to perform them satisfactorily.

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