Economic Stress in the Workplace
We’ve all experienced the trials and tribulations of a down construction market, and now it seems the market is improving and we’re all hopeful the trend continues. However, as things improve, are employers mentally healthy enough to get themselves and their organizations on the road to recovery? According to mental health experts, the answer may be “no.”
In a report by The World Health Organization entitled the “Impact of Economic Crisis on Mental Health,” one would have to conclude, as did the report itself, that the economic crisis did have a substantial impact on mental health of individuals. Again, although the economy in the United States seems to be improving it doesn’t mean that the mental health of employers has improved.
Employers Not Better Off
Employees may believe that their employer is bullet proof and not susceptible to mental health problems as a result of economic stress or as a result of anything for that matter. In researching how economic stress impacts people in general the most common mental health impact is depression, and it can be severe in many cases.
According to helpguide.org, the telltale signs associated with depression are as follows:
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
- Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, or social activities. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
- Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5 percent of body weight in a month.
- Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
- Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
- Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
- Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
- Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
- Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints, such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.
I want to suggest that everyone re-read the list of depression symptoms several times and carefully consider whether or not these symptoms apply to you or your boss before you read the rest of this article.
What does hopelessness feel like? For employers it feels like they have been abandoned by everyone. It feels like every bonus they gave during the good times wasn’t appreciated. It feels like being totally alone, having no control and no one understands, supports or helps. It feels like a slow death and is probably the worst and most destructive feeling an employer can have as the economy improves.
Loss of Interest
Hopelessness often leads to an employer’s loss of interest in running or even being in business. As a result, many employers disconnect from their partners, employees, vendors and customers and begin looking for something else that might energize them without success. Loss of interest feels like the business or people failed them rather than them having failing the business.
For employers, anger comes out in a variety of ways, but one of the most destructive ways employers expose their anger is in making others feel worthless or at fault. In other words, if an employer uses anger to make others feel worthless or at fault it may mean the employer is severely depressed. There is nothing wrong with righteous anger, but there is a lot wrong with anger meant to hurt and not help.
Self-loathing is an important depression symptom because many employers during the economic downturn made wrong decisions and other mistakes they can look back upon now and say, “I wish I hadn’t done that,” or “If I hadn’t done so and so we wouldn’t be in this situation.” Self-loathing feels like, “I can’t do anything right anymore.” It feels like “I’m not competent and no longer an asset,” of which is related to hopelessness and loss of interest.
Watching an employer behave recklessly at first, may seem as if the employer is doing something revolutionary or innovative, but in the end, the employer was actually just being reckless. Being reckless feels like something new, exciting and possibly energizing and if it pays off, the employer can be the hero again. Recklessness is directly related to hopelessness, loss of interest, anger and self-loathing because in the end it’s an attempt to feel better.
Obviously, it’s important that employers focus on their businesses in order to keep them thriving. However, depressed employers find it very difficult to focus on anything other than themselves. Not being able to concentrate feels like, “I just can’t make another decision, I’m worn out.” Not being able to concentrate or make decisions is related to feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest and not wanting to have another thing to regret. Who guides the business when the employer feels this way? This is most interesting because, although a depressed employer may delegate the day-to-day guidance of the business to others, he or she will not give up authority. In other words, a depressed employer may let others run things, for the most part, but you better not think for a moment that others can do it to the owner’s satisfaction.
It’s far easier for a depressed employer to look at what someone else is doing wrong, and then pull the carpet right out from under them. It’s just another symptom of the problem of being depressed, a need to stay in control while being out of control. In other words, “no matter how good you are, you will never be good enough to be the boss,” until the boss gets help.
Leaders, in most cases, will never admit to themselves or others they are having a mental health problem or in this case a depression problem because they view it as a severe weakness.
A client once told me, “I had little compassion for people who had “mental” problems until out of the blue I had a panic attack.” He said it was so bad that he sought help immediately because he couldn’t function, he couldn’t leave the house on his own. In his case he told everyone who needed to know, and put someone in charge of his business until he was ready to get back to work. However, when he got back to work he realized that the person who took over for him was doing a great job and decided to leave him in charge.
In other words, if he hadn’t had the panic attack and had not gotten help, he may have not ever relinquished control, because as he put it, “I was a control freak.” Obvious case of something very good as a result of something seemingly very bad.
In the case of depression as a result of years of economic stress, an employer-boss-leader may not recognize the symptoms of depression and may not seek help even though they know something’s wrong.
Another interesting consideration is whether or not the culture of a company can “feel” depressed as a result of the leader being depressed. Is it possible that an otherwise inspirational leader can change the culture of an entire company? There is no doubt in my mind that what a leader feels is transferred to employees at faster and slower speeds depending on the size of the company.
As employees recognize hopelessness, anger, loss of interest in their leader they become hopeless, angry and they lose interest which results in good employees leaving the company.
It’s important that people understand that being the top dog doesn’t mean you won’t get bit. In other words, employers, bosses, leaders are not bullet proof, and are very susceptible to severe depression as a result of years of economic stress. As they say, “There is no better time than the present” to check your mental health.
Remember: Teamwork begins with a fair contractor.