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No one likes talking about it. But still, everyone knows someone affected by it: Mental illness is on the rise. This didn’t start with COVID, though. Cases of mental illness and behavioral disorders have been climbing for 20 years and have more than doubled in number.
This trend obviously affects the mentally ill and their families. But it inflicts considerable damage on the economy, too. In 2020, mental illness was responsible for 132 sick days for every 1,000 people in the statutory insurance system – in 2005, it only accounted for 14 sick days. Health insurers are predicting that 180,000 people – if not more – could suffer burnout this year alone. Mental illness is now the number one reason for people to take off sick from work. Moreover, once people call out due to a mental illness, they stay away from work twice as long, on average, than those suffering from injuries or cardiovascular diseases.
When people are asked what causes them stress, they point to their jobs and then to their drive to overachieve. Coming shortly behind those causes are “bad work conditions” and “unclear instructions and processes”. Conflicts with coworkers can also have a negative impact.
Stress and other diseases often go hand-in-hand. If you are under a lot of stress, you are more likely to have other complaints such as fatigue, back pain or colds.
That highlights the importance of corporate prevention programs. It should be noted, though, that this is not a situation where it is too late to close the barn door after the horse has bolted. These kinds of mental illnesses generally respond well to treatment. However, employees who stay mentally healthy will not be absent from their teams. They will not have an adverse impact on their families’ lives, either.
That is why it helps to begin with an exhaustive analysis of the stress factors in place at work. Employees must be deliberately brought on board in this process. Once the stress factors have been captured in the risk assessment for mental stress, the next step is to identify and take measures to improve the work situation. For employers, that means striking a balance between employee engagement and suitable rewards in the form of recognition, pay or accomplishments.
If you feel like you’re at risk, you have to do your part and develop protective mechanisms to prevent burnout. People are known for blaming themselves when they fail to meet the expectations placed on them. That is why the first phase of burnout is dominated by feelings of guilt or inadequacy for failing to do better. Nearly two thirds of respondents stated that they simply ride out stress. However, “grinning and bearing it” is clearly the wrong strategy.
This is where work-life balance comes in. This is still a bugbear for some employers. However, we are making progress. More employees reported significant improvements in their work-life balance compared to 2013 – things have obviously improved in the past nine years.
Since mental health is inextricably intertwined with physical health, health promotion strategies are obviously essential to prevention and treatment. Aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep and relaxing hobbies are the secrets to stress reduction.
All these things can help improve your resilience early on. It’s a mistake to wait until your stress becomes overwhelming before you start tackling your risk for burnout. Resilience, it’s worth noting, is the ability to maintain or restore your sense of equanimity during crises, setbacks or acute stress situations. It helps to develop an ability to mentally distance yourself from a situation and focus on the positives. This prevents you from brooding about things that cannot possibly help solve your problem.
For many people, face-to-face discussions offer a great way to reduce stress. Professional assistance can be very beneficial for this type of reflection. One-on-one approaches, such as coaching, can help you gradually develop mental and physical defenses.
Health is becoming increasingly important – for employees and employers alike. Not just because demographic change means people have to work for longer, but also because the skilled labor shortage has made companies keener to keep their older workers. Plus, highly skilled workers are increasingly choosing their employers based on factors that include corporate health promotion programs. Fitness classes and regular check-ups are becoming almost more important than bonuses or company cars. For forward-looking companies, integrated corporate health management is a key success factor.
That is why the wide range of services offered by Infraserv Höchst’s Industrial Clinic is so popular among the 22,000 people who work at the roughly 90 companies based at Industriepark Höchst. It runs the gamut from pre-employment health screenings to health check-ups regularly required for certain occupational groups all the way to campaigns such as flu vaccine drives or skin cancer screening.
Employees have access to two site health centers where they can work out on equipment like in a conventional gym. They can also choose from a wide-ranging selection of classes – from tai-chi to back strengthening to nutrition consulting. Mental health is on the radar, too.
Infraserv Höchst has long conducted risk assessments for its own 2,700 employees and for various customers in which it specifically assesses mental stresses. The assessment consists of four stages: planning, analysis, workshop and review. First, all the stakeholders are brought in for the planning phase. Next, the analysis is conducted in the form of anonymous surveys. Finally, the data is evaluated. The next key step is a workshop in which employees, managers and experts discuss the findings and identify responses that are subsequently monitored for effectiveness.
This approach has proven to be very effective at our own organization and at customer companies and continues to be refined and enhanced over time.
Dr. Martin Kern, Head of Occupational Health and Safety at Infraserv Höchst
One important goal is to build awareness among employees and managers. “We also talk about ways to identify mental changes among coworkers and other employees, what to do in response and what kind of professional assistance is available,” explained Dr. Martin Kern.
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