By Dr. Minal Mistry, Psychiatrist
OECD is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is an intergovernmental economic organization, with 35 member countries, whose mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. OECD cover most of Europe and other countries such as United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. One of OECD’s area of interest is highlighted in their “Mental Health and Work Review” factsheet about mental illness in the workplace.
Mental illness and the workplace
OECD state that 1 in 5 people of working age in the OECD area suffer from a mental disorder. They emphasize that it is usually mild or moderate mental disorders that are found in employees. OECD also raise the important point that many people with mental disorders want to work, but working whilst suffering from mental disorders can lead to significant consequences such as “absenteeism” and “presenteeism”.
“Absenteeism” and “Presenteeism”
National Medical Systems (NMS), a provider of numerous occupational health services in the United States, makes the distinction between employees taking time off work due to sickness (absenteeism) and a less well understood concept called “presenteeism”. Presenteeism means being present at the workplace but not being productive due to lack of motivation, work overload, or an illness:
“Having this employee come in can put your other employee’s health at risk and the reality is if they have fallen ill their quality of work is going to suffer as well”.
Costs to the employer (and employee)
Absenteeism and Presenteeism is costly to the organization. NMS state that a big contribution to presenteeism is a chronic condition. Diabetes comes in as the highest contributor, but in second and third place are Depression and Alcohol Abuse respectively. I believe that mental disorders impacting on the workplace are on the rise, and I predict it will become the number one cause of workplace absenteeism and presenteeism leading to loss of productivity for the organization and increased suffering of the employees.
What can be done about the consequences of mental disorders in the workplace?
We know that organizations try to manage these issues by monitoring and discussing them, with the help of attendance management meetings dealing with absenteeism but not much attention drawn towards presenteeism. However, both consequences of employees suffering with mental disorders whilst working may be mitigated by the organization and management helping with a different approach. Enter the findings of the latest study from Australia…
Mental Health Training for managers could reduce sick leave
A recent Lancet Psychiatry publication in November 2017, conducted in Aussieland by Josie Milligan-Saville and colleagues including Professor Samuel Harvey, has produced innovative findings:
THE STUDY – A randomized controlled trial in which managers were randomly assigned a 4-hour face-to-face “RESPECT” mental health training programme, and other managers assigned to a group in which the programme was deferred (control group).
THE PROGRAMME – The RESPECT programme was a from of mental health training that aimed to reduce the adverse consequences of mental illness of employees by changing the managers’ knowledge, attitudes, confidence and behavior towards employees with mental health problems.
THE PARTICPANTS – These were from a Fire and Rescue Service which included managers and other employees including firefighters and station officers. 25 managers (1233 employees) received the training, whilst 19 managers (733 employees) did not receive the training, and the outcomes were followed up after six months
THE FINDINGS – Employees of managers who received training noticed the mean work-related sick leave reduced by 0.28 percentage points (pp) compared with an equivalent increase in the other group whose managers did not receive training. This means the training led to a reduction of sick leave of 6.45 hours per employee in six months!
Why is this landmark study so important?
OECD have stated that people with common mental disorders who have a job are often underserved. OECD are of the view that actors outside of the mental health system, which include the employer and management, could be crucial to better outcomes for those with common mental disorders in the workplace. Adding this view to the results of the Australian research, it is clear the answer to better managing sick leave in those with mental disorders lies with training the managers.
So, with just a single 4-hour training programme to help managers to improve their knowledge, attitude, confidence and behavior with regard to employees who suffer mental disorders, this is a cost-effective solution to reduce the impact on absenteeism. I also think this solution has the potential to reduce the issue of presenteeism which results from the suffering of those with mental health problems, who are dedicated to attend work, find their performance suffering and this leads to loss of productivity for the organization.
Thus, mental health training for managers seems like a win-win-win situation:
Cite this article as-
Minal Mistry (2017). Managing mental illness and sick leave in the workplace: is it time to train the managers? The Beautiful Space-A Journal of Mind, Art and Poetry. December 2017: TBSB126
Please check author names highlighted with each article.
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