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Mental Health in the Workplace: Signs It May Be Time to Switch Careers

Heather Lyons, Ph.D.

The average U.S. worker changes jobs 11 times in their lives; many believe that number will be much higher for millennials. Some workers may leave to accept another job offer or to retire, or perhaps due to a medical condition or long-term disability. Some leave involuntarily. Others, though, leave a job because they can no longer endure the level of stress their job causes.

Whether workplace stress stems from coworkers, supervisors, workload, job insecurity, a culture shift, or the lack of work-life balance, it can interfere with your mental health, happiness, and overall wellness, and work becomes unbearable. These may be indicators of a mental health condition referred to as burnout. Here’s how to recognize that it’s time for a workplace intervention, or perhaps even a job or career change before it’s too late.

Mental Health in the Workplace

Fatigue or Boredom 

It’s not unusual to dread returning to work on Monday after a relaxing or enjoyable weekend. But when you dread facing your job every day because it depletes your energy or doesn’t challenge you, you may have a bigger problem. When you’re not fulfilled or making progress in your career, your mind wanders, you suffer from restlessness, and you might as well be absent. This phenomenon is known as presenteeism.

Presenteeism occurs when someone is physically present at work, but their mind is elsewhere. For company leaders, presenteeism can be worse than absenteeism. “Checked out” employees cause productivity loss, decreased morale, and can become a distraction or diversion for coworkers. But the impact on the employee is worse. Continued dissatisfaction can lead to or exacerbate mental health conditions like anxiety disorder or major depression, and wear down your emotional and physical resilience.

Poor Performance

Employees’ workplace stress is usually reflected in the quality of their work. Passionate employees will go the extra mile, but dispassionate employees may just try to check a box on a scorecard—if that. This lackluster performance not only reflects on  employees’ performance, impacting their chances for a promotion or annual increase. It also hurts employee productivity as a whole and, therefore, the company’s bottom line.

Subpar performance can cost lives. For example, say you work for a company that manufactures a product. If you’re not careful about everything you do, you could compromise quality as well as the safety of the end-user and your coworkers. In fact, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggested in 2014 that employees’ mental health issues, including a lack of mental focus, is associated with an increased risk of injury among workers. Also, consider the damage medical professionals or first responders could do if their job performance is declining.

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Deteriorating Physical Health 

Workplace stress obviously impacts your mental health, but many people don’t understand the impact a mental health problem can have on your physical condition. Work-related stress, anxiety, or depression symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, muscular tension, heart palpitations, sleep difficulties, and other illnesses. These conditions may also lead to substance abuse problems.

While these physical impairments may not be severe enough to qualify as a disability, many mental health conditions that hinder your job performance may be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Unsupportive Employer 

More and more employers have added employee assistance programs, or EAPs, to their human resources and acknowledging the importance of mental health assistance and intervention. Some EAP benefits, including employer-paid appointments with counselors and other mental health services, workplace stress, and mental health conditions, may alleviate your dissatisfaction.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized the positive impact of human resources-driven employee assistance programs, especially those that focus on workplace mental health. Indeed, an EAP business case can be made for the cost savings and increased productivity that results in employees in good mental health. 

Other aspects of EAP benefits also show progress in the right direction. These include increasing awareness of available mental health resources, providing access to information about mental health from the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Mental Health America, and other organizations, removing the stigma surrounding mental health, providing insight into fair treatment of employees, training employees and managers on how to help others with mental health issues, and creating mental health policies that discourage bullying and harassment of employees with mental illness.

If your employer doesn’t recognize the importance of supporting its employees’ mental health through its health insurance benefits, an EAP, or some other program, it might be time to find one that does. You wouldn’t be alone in demanding employer support for mental health and workplace stress. A 2018 survey found that 72% of employees want their employers to champion their mental health and well-being.

Find Help

If you’re thinking about leaving your job or switching careers due to workplace stress, a mental health concern, or an employer’s lack of support for the mental health of employees, consider reaching out to a therapist or other mental health professional through With Therapy.

With Therapy’s unique service will match you with a counselor or therapist with whom you’re comfortable, no matter what your personal preferences or requirements are. One of our qualified and caring therapists will help you explore your current thoughts and behaviors and create a healthy path to achieve your job and career goals.

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