Okay, the headline applies to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area in Southern Ontario, Canada, but I’ll bet the per capita numbers are probably about the same in your local area. A new report from CivicAction, “an independent and nimble developer of broad civic leadership creating collaborative solutions to unresolved regional challenges,” reports that nearly 50% of workers in the GTHA have experience mental health issues, and that the projected productivity loss over the next decade could amount to $17 billion.
Among the main causes reported in the report are: Income inequality, Job insecurity, Racial discrimination, Family care demands, and Housing conditions and affordability. Big, systemic issues, to be sure, and issues that need systemic approaches that recognize the inherent complexity of the contextualizing circumstances. Not surprisingly, the report highlights a medicalized, mental health support approach. It talks about physician-related stigma, access to Employee and Family Assistance Programs, and psychological/psychiatric counselling. In other words, irrespective of the root causes, a person who is feeling the effects of whatever the overwhelming stressers in their life might be, should be considered only as an individual, one who should be supported to overcome what is considered only their problem..
What’s wrong with this picture? Systemic, causal issues do not lend themselves effectively to individual solutions.
The biggest contributor, by the way, to workplace emotional distress (almost listed as an afterthought in the infographic and media reportage) is workplace culture. That’s right: 60% of the workers surveyed report “that emotional / interpersonal issues are the top source of workplace stress; the top … issue identified is the culture of the workplace” (emphasis mine).
This is potentially good news. Never mind, “potentially”—this is VERY good news. What it means is that a substantial solution to the seeming epidemic of mental health issues that workers experience every day in almost every workplace does not require solving job insecurity, eliminating racial discrimination, addressing family care demands, and remediating housing conditions and affordability. Those would be wonderful, to be sure. But, addressing the number one cause of workplace distress can be accomplished in the workplaces themselves, and for very little money.
In fact, many of the changes that would effect a remarkable transformation of workplace culture can be accomplished for almost NO MONEY AT ALL, aside from a little education, a little coaching, and a bunch of practice. By transitioning to a culture based on Appreciative Management Practices, the distress that half the workforce experiences can be greatly reduced. The savings in Employee Support Programs, not to mention eliminating the lost productivity, and gaining the ancillary benefits of improved motivation, higher work quality, and enabling considerable innovation more than justifies the minimal investment of almost no money at all.
For a taste of what could be possible, it just so happens that I’m teaching a seminar in June on behalf of the HRPA, open to everyone (with a class size limited to 20) called “The Human Side of Contemporary Leadership” that covers exactly this. Here are a couple of comments from people who have attended the same program (offered by a different organization):
- “Mark is an illuminating speaker, provocative presenter and incisive coach. His ability to make sense of organizational behaviour from an individual point of view to a larger dynamic corporate entity is remarkable. His thoughts on the workplace and people within it are relevant, timely, humanistic and creative. He allows one to reimagine a workplace environment where workers thrive and ultimately drive success at a time when 20th century business models no longer make sense.”
- “Mark taught a one-day session in our 2016 Leadership Program. His approach to the material was well-balanced between theory and practice providing insightful approaches on how to cultivate the best in people. Mark is a complete professional in his approach to teaching but manages to be very accessible by incorporating his own flair and personality into the session, resulting in a very engaging learning environment.”