When Silence Speaks: Addressing the Neglected Issues of Mental Health at Work

This article features insights from twelve industry leaders, such as CEOs and founders, who share their thoughts on a commonly overlooked aspect of mental health in the workplace. The experts discuss topics such as addressing invisible burnout and understanding the impact of chronic pain and physical ailments, shedding light on areas that require more attention.

  • Phenomenon of Invisible Burnout
  • Importance of Employee Appreciation
  • Microaggressions and Mental Health
  • Co-Workers’ Distress Signs
  • Feelings of Isolation in Remote Work
  • Impact of Leadership’s Mental Health
  • Support and Guidance for Leaders
  • Physical and Mental Health Connection
  • Rigid Work Culture’s Impact
  • Positive Sensory Environments
  • Mental Health Stigma Challenges
  • Chronic Pain and Physical Ailments

Phenomenon of Invisible Burnout

One of the most overlooked aspects of workplace mental health is the phenomenon of “invisible burnout.” It’s not just about being visibly tired or disengaged. It’s about the internal struggle, the dwindling sense of purpose, and the suppressed feelings of inadequacy that many don’t vocalize. 

Many professionals excel on the surface, but deep down, they struggle with feelings of disconnect and alienation. Often, one isn’t overwhelmed by tasks but by a lack of emotional connection and recognition. 

Companies must cultivate a culture where employees can express their professional ambitions, emotional and psychological needs, and issues. This nuanced understanding can help redefine the overall workplace well-being.

Bayu Prihandito, Psychology Expert, Life Coach, and Founder, Life Architekture

Importance of Employee Appreciation

When an employee doesn’t feel appreciated in their workplace, it can lead to feelings of depression, particularly if they feel as though they are working their heart out, meeting deadlines, and taking care of their responsibilities.

Not every action needs a pat on the back. However, it’s important that employees feel recognized and appreciated in their work. If they don’t, their mental health can struggle because they struggle to reaffirm their worth in their company.

It’s a responsibility to ensure employees feel empowered and appreciated. So, time should be taken with each employee to go over how well they’ve been doing and thank them with a verbal “thank you” and some incentive reward.

You would be surprised by how much you can address simply by reaching out and offering gratitude to your employees. This can help improve the office’s mood, morale, and overall emotional well-being.

Stefan Campbell, Owner, The Small Business Blog

Microaggressions and Mental Health

Microaggressions are an often overlooked aspect of mental health in the workplace. In my journey of fostering emotional balance through chakra healing, I’ve found that these subtle, sometimes unintentional, remarks or actions can silently erode an individual’s well-being. 

I recall when a colleague innocuously commented on my choice of holistic practices, suggesting they were “just a phase.” This casual remark made me question my path and passion momentarily. 

Such experiences taught me the profound impact these small comments can have on one’s mental health and the importance of creating a workplace that is free of judgment and full of understanding.

Clare Gilbey, Founder, Chakra Practice

Co-Workers’ Distress Signs

With mental health issues in the workplace, one of the most overlooked aspects is recognizing signs and symptoms of distress among co-workers. While supervisors and managers are often trained to recognize these signs, many employees don’t realize that their peers may struggle with mental health issues. This can prevent them from reaching out for help and support. 

To create a supportive environment for those suffering from mental health issues, employees must be aware of the potential signs exhibited by their peers. This includes changes in mood, physical appearance, behavior, or attitude. Employees should be encouraged to speak up if they are concerned about a coworker’s mental well-being.

Ryan Hetrick, CEO, Epiphany Wellness

Feelings of Isolation in Remote Work

General isolation is a growing issue. With remote and hybrid work more in vogue, it’s easier than ever for workers to spend a week without human contact. 

Even with family and neighbors, seeing colleagues and peers from the workplace positively affects mental health and company culture building. Even when I can’t get together with my team, I hang out with the people at my co-working space.

Trevor Ewen, COO, QBench

Impact of Leadership’s Mental Health

One aspect of workplace mental health that I don’t see discussed broadly is the impact of one person’s issues on the broader workplace, culture, and team’s mental health. This is especially true when the person having issues is in leadership. 

Struggling with a mental health challenge often leads people to act in ways they normally wouldn’t or to say or do harmful things that cause stress for the people around them. This is a difficult situation because you don’t want to blame your boss or coworker for something beyond their control, especially when you know they’re struggling, too. 

However, ‌it can create a very toxic work environment when you work with someone who is always negative, hostile, lashing out, blaming others, etc. Being in that environment can also trigger mental health problems in other team members, leading to a vicious cycle.

Carlos Da Silva, Physician Assistant, PA Career Hub

Support and Guidance for Leaders

Leaders serve as supporters and encouragers for their teams’ mental health, but many don’t have enough to support themselves. The higher you move up the leadership ladder, the fewer people above you to offer the guidance and mental health support you need. 

Work pressures and responsibilities often increase as you earn promotions while your support decreases. A study shows that 49% of CEOs deal with mental health conditions, so businesses must be built with plenty of support for all teammates, including management and top-tier leadership.

CEOs will not ask interns for mental health support, so it’s important to establish strong third-party support systems like coaching, counseling, and more. Building a culture that leans into self-care is crucial so leaders feel they can rest, recover, and ask for help without guilt or shame.

Denise Hemke, Chief Product Officer, Checkr


Physical and Mental Health Connection

While workplaces everywhere actively try to improve mental health support, the physical connection is sometimes missed—especially in remote work. Chronic disease and poor physical health can negatively affect our mental health, just as poor mental health can wreak havoc on our physical health. You can’t have one without the other. 

Leaders can’t force their employees to move their bodies, but they can offer better health coverage and benefits and educate their team about the mental-physical health connection. When ramping up mental health perks and initiatives, matching those efforts equally on the physical health front is important.

Max Wesman, Chief Operating Officer, GoodHire

Rigid Work Culture’s Impact

The impact of a rigid work culture is an aspect of mental health problems in the workplace that is frequently disregarded. Realizing the importance of nurturing a flexible and encouraging environment is crucial. 

Workload excess, unrealistic expectations, and a lack of work-life balance contribute to several mental health issues. Businesses can create a more compassionate environment by encouraging open dialogue about mental health, providing resources for stress management, and instituting flexible work arrangements. 

Addressing this factor benefits employees’ mental health and increases their productivity and job satisfaction. The responsibility of maintaining the health of a team while maintaining a successful practice should be taken seriously.

Michael Callahan, Founder and Director, The Callahan Law Firm

Mental Health Stigma Challenges

The stigma surrounding mental health is a pervasive, overlooked issue in the workplace that can have long-term effects on employee well-being. 

Many people are still uncomfortable discussing mental health issues in a public setting, making employees feel ashamed of their struggles with mental health. This stigma means individuals may not feel comfortable seeking help or talking about their issues with co-workers or their supervisors. 

Unfortunately, this can lead to a lack of access to resources and support for those struggling with mental health issues. The stigma surrounding mental health can also be exacerbated by workplace culture, which may contribute to feelings of isolation and alienation among employees experiencing mental distress.

Keith Sant, Head of Property Acquisitions, Texas Cash House Buyer

Chronic Pain and Physical Ailments

One of the most overlooked symptoms of poor mental health that employers miss is chronic pain and other physical ailments. While some people experience pain, injury, or physical illness separately from mental health issues, up to 50% of people with chronic pain experience depression. 

When an employee takes sick days or regularly complains of physical ailments, leaders should work to put the right mental health support in place. A teammate may experience regular headaches as a side effect of depression or anxiety without understanding the connection between the two, so managers should ask the right questions and shine a light on how these two elements can affect each other. 

Whether an illness is associated with mental health issues, most will overlap at some point. Even those who report relatively high levels of mental wellness can see issues arise when dealing with an ongoing illness.

Brian Nagele, CEO, Restaurant Clicks

“The Blind Spots on the Corporate Radar”: Ignored Signals and How to Address Them

We often ignore the whispers until they become screams. In the context of a workplace, overlooking certain indicators of poor mental health or low morale can lead to devastating consequences, not just for employees but also for the organization. Here are some signs that companies absolutely shouldn’t ignore:

Subtle Signs and Their Solutions

  • Low Engagement in Meetings: Employees seem disinterested, barely contributing ideas or questions.
    • Approach: Spice up your meetings with interactive segments, allow room for open discussions and ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Frequent Sick Leaves: An uptick in short-term absences might indicate stress or burnout.
    • Approach: Consider implementing wellness programs and mental health days to give your employees a breather.
  • High Employee Turnover: If people leave in droves, it’s a glaring sign that something is wrong.
    • Approach: Conduct exit interviews to better understand the issues and use this data to make organizational changes.
  • Drop in Productivity: Consistently failing to meet deadlines or targets can signify waning motivation.
    • Approach: Offer performance incentives and ensure a balanced workload.
  • Office Gossip and Politics: A toxic work environment leads to poor mental health.
    • Approach: Maintain an open-door policy for employees to voice concerns and implement a zero-tolerance policy for harassment.
  • Overwork and No Work-Life Balance: Employees consistently staying late is a recipe for burnout.
    • Approach: Encourage a balanced lifestyle by offering flexible working hours and discouraging late-night or weekend work.

Advanced Approaches

  • Employee Pulse Surveys: These quick, anonymous surveys can gauge the mood and engagement level of your team.
  • Mental Health First Aid Training: Equip your HR team and managers with the skills to recognize and address mental health issues.
  • Holistic Well-being Programs: Incorporate activities catering to mental and physical health, like meditation sessions and fitness challenges.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ignored signals can snowball into larger issues that could harm the workplace.
  • Proactive and empathetic leadership can address these issues before they escalate.

It’s easier to steer a ship in the right direction when you notice the winds changing. By paying attention to these signs and implementing appropriate measures, companies can foster a healthier, more productive work environment for everyone involved.

Legal Accountability: When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Ignoring mental health issues isn’t just a moral oversight; it can lead to legal repercussions for the company. Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which includes providing a safe and healthy work environment. A failure to address clear signs of mental distress can result in legal action.

Strategies to Avoid Liability:

  • Implementing mental health policies
  • Providing access to confidential counseling services
  • Regular training for managers to recognize signs of mental distress

Diving into these legally-focused sections will round out your article nicely, offering a holistic view of mental health in the workplace.

Legal Accountability: When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Ignoring mental health issues isn’t just a moral oversight; it can lead to legal repercussions for the company. Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which includes providing a safe and healthy work environment. A failure to address clear signs of mental distress can result in legal action.

Strategies to Avoid Liability:

  • Implementing mental health policies
  • Providing access to confidential counseling services
  • Regular training for managers to recognize signs of mental distress

Navigating ADA Compliance: Mental Health Edition

Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is crucial for mental health. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, which include certain mental health conditions.

Things to Consider:

  • How to approach the “reasonable accommodation” conversation
  • When an employer can legally deny an accommodation request

Employee Rights and Employer Responsibilities

The law outlines specific rights and responsibilities for both parties. Employers are obligated to ensure a safe work environment, while employees have the right to be treated fairly, regardless of mental health conditions.

Legal Guidelines to Follow:

  • Anti-discrimination policies
  • Providing adequate support and resources for mental health

The Thin Line Between Poor Performance and a Mental Health Issue

Firing someone because of performance issues related to mental health can land an employer in hot water.

Strategies to Balance Productivity and Compassion:

  • Implementing performance improvement plans
  • Offering mental health resources alongside disciplinary actions

Protected Leaves and Mental Health

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specified family and medical reasons, including mental health.

Understanding the Coverage:

  • Who qualifies for such leaves
  • How to apply without stigmatization

Confidentiality Concerns: What Can Be Discussed

There are strict rules around what employers can and cannot ask or disclose about an employee’s mental health. Violating these rules can result in penalties.

Key Points to Remember:

  • HIPAA Compliance
  • Handling sensitive information responsibly

Addressing Workplace Harassment and Its Mental Toll

A toxic workplace doesn’t just affect morale—it’s also illegal. Harassment and bullying can have severe mental health repercussions and are legally punishable.

Safeguarding Employee Mental Health:

  • Zero-tolerance harassment policies
  • Regular training and awareness programs

Key Takeaways from a Legal Standpoint

Understanding the legal aspects of mental health in the workplace is crucial for employees and employers. Failure to adhere to these legal guidelines can result in severe penalties and a damaged reputation.

By addressing these legal facets, you’re protecting your company and providing your employees a safe and inclusive environment.