A growing number of organisations are taking the mental health of their staff seriously and implementing programmes to improve mental wellbeing in the workplace. However, if you are feeling this has all gone too far, here is our antidote – a six-point guide to messing-up your staff’s mental health and boosting your sickness absence figures:
1. Allow workloads to become unreasonable
Most people like to keep busy and will willingly put in some extra effort to address short-term peaks in their work load, like month end. So, to really stress them you need the feeling of having too much work to do and not enough time to do it to be pretty much constant. This isn’t that difficult to do as left unchecked the natural effects of mission-creep and Parkinson’s Law will tend to increase workloads. Add in the effects of some cost-cutting, a bit of down-sizing and some ill-thought through initiatives and you’ll be onto a winner. While you may regularly dole out new work, try and avoid ever sitting down and reviewing your staff’s workload with them.
2. Put them to work in an unhealthy environment
This one is quite easy, as mostly it just needs a bit of neglect, a lack of imagination and some penny-pinching. Make sure there is no natural light and, if it is a job that requires concentration, arrange for plenty of ambient noise. Keep the place untidy, don’t pay any attention to ergonomics and don’t provide any space where they can get away from the workplace.
3. Be inflexible over how and when they work
Reducing the level of autonomy over how and when the job is done generally increases stress levels. So, strict procedures that don’t leave any leeway for initiative – even for something sensible like helping a customer – are good. You should be equally strict about working hours. They may have young children to bring up or elderly parents to care for, but don’t entertain any requests for flexible working.
4. Encourage a long-hours culture
Being inflexible about their contract hours, doesn’t mean you can’t get people to work longer. It’s actually quite easy to do as most people start out motivated, committed and, particularly in the UK, inclined to put the hours in. And, if you have done No.1 well, they’ll have to stay on to get things finished anyway. The downside is you have to lead by example, so you’ll have to get used to being the first in the morning and the last to leave at night. But hey, work-life balance is for wimps, right?
5. Avoid the human touch
You may well be an altogether reasonable human being, but it is best not to let them know it. So, don’t spend time getting to know them, don’t praise them and, above all, don’t ask if they are OK.
6. Keep changing
These days change is the new normal. This is great news, as frequent, poorly-managed change is a sure way to stress your staff. So, if you can maintain a near constant state of change through a series of top-down “restructuring”, “transformation” or “re-engineering” projects you’ll be on to a winner. If you can inject some uncertainty into the process, e.g. over who’s going to be going, who’s staying, all the better. Whatever you do, don’t bother with any of that time-consuming consultation and communications malarkey, it will just undo your hard work.
Of course we’re just kidding – no one sets out to screw-up their staff’s mental health, but it is easy to do through a lack of awareness. That’s one of the reasons why we developed our Mental Health for Managers training courses and also wrote this blog post.