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Stop organisations causing mental health problems for their employees

Celebrating World Mental Health Day – 10th October 2015 

What a terrible thing to say – that organisations cause mental health problems. Some do, and some do the opposite; they create the working environment that makes people feel fabulous and perform brilliantly.

MAS, the Management Advisory Service has released information to help organisations achieve peak performance and productivity, strengthen corporate and personal resilience and to prevent stress from occurring in the first place.

The sad fact is that most people experience good mental health for much of their lives, but sometimes find themselves working for an organisation that destroys that sense of mental wellbeing so vital for success and happiness.

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Poorly led and managed organisations are incubating stress, anxiety, depression and burnout, costing them and the nation £billions. How many of our 33 million people in employment experience mental health problems? Almost 50% during the course of their working lives, according to some surveys.

For those suffering any of these conditions their life becomes a misery.

Yet, this situation is largely preventable.

The workplace should be the place to run to, an oasis of relative calm in a stormy world; the place where you obtain most of the ingredients to make you feel success and happiness, such as having a purpose and experiencing pleasure. Who denies they feel a great sense of pleasure as well as satisfaction when they complete something successfully at work? Add to this the opportunity of forging relationships, rising to challenges, extending skills, knowledge and experience, including working overseas for some, you can begin to see how organisations can be good for your mental health.

We do have some basic problems, however. We live almost constantly in the context of organisations, mainly informal ones, such as local communities, families, sports teams and clubs. To feel great about mixing with others we need to be able to feel in control of ourselves, and then be able to behave in ways to ensure we get what we want out of life. Too often, sadly, we don’t behave in the most effective ways possible, and this is the root cause of most of the stress we experience.

In formal organisations such as the workplace, the behaviours of leaders and managers are crucial to our mental health. If they behave in ways that makes us think that working is a pointless exercise, then we don’t perform and the organisation suffers considerable financial loss, alongside the loss of your motivation, enthusiasm and energy.

On the other hand, if they behave in ways that encourage you to feel as though you own the organisation, that it’s yours and you make a significant contribution to its success today and tomorrow, you are likely to love that feeling and work harder and with greater intensity, because work provides you with a purpose, and gives you pleasure.

How can leaders and managers make the difference?

There are a couple of fundamental principles that support the approach to maintaining good mental health at work.

The first is to adopt Psychological Responsibility, a responsibility that you have to yourself to keep mentally healthy. This means avoiding letting yourself do things you know will be harmful. More positively, it means you do things at work designed to keep you mentally healthy, such as making sure you select the right job for you; the right manager for you; and that you have a clear purpose and can see your job helping to achieve that purpose; that you are offered challenges that you wish to tackle; that you are free to make friendships; that mutual expectations with work colleagues are established; that your performance is continuously being appraised, and you appraise others; that your work is done in an organisation that has similar values to your own.

Psychological Responsibility also means ensuring you do no psychological harm to others; that you help them remain mentally well. This requires you to adopt intelligent behaviours – those that boost others, as well as being attentive to them, a critical behaviour to be used at all times.

The second fundamental principle is for the organisation to share responsibility with you for the future success of the organisation. This principle supports the idea that you are a part ‘owner’ of the organisation, and, therefore, have a responsibility to ensure its future success, alongside everyone else. This principle opens up the opportunity for you to make proposals to improve anything; it enables you to raise concerns without a hint of humiliation of comeback; it banishes overnight the idea of whistle blowing as you are expected to constantly, where needed, to blow the whistle. It enables you to talk about ‘elephants in the room’ and deal with them. You are expected to feel accountable for the future success of the organisation, even though you may not be held to account. You are, also, expected to behave like the chief executive, seeing the whole organisation and not just your part of it.

Once these principles are embedded, the organisation needs to set about creating the culture, leadership style and working environment that produces in each and every employee and manager trust, commitment, kinship, motivation, the ability to pay attention and concentrate, all of which lead to social engagement, the type of engagement that is characterised by vigour, absorption and dedication. If you feel vigour, absorption and dedication you are bound to feel happy as these elements play straight into the sensations associated with pleasure and having a purpose.


  • Encourage everyone to share responsibility for the future success of the organisation.
  • Encourage everyone to take on the role of the Chief Executive – to see the whole organisation and not just their part of it.


  • Adopt psychological responsibility for yourself and others.
  • Do things at work designed to keep you mentally healthy.
  • Do no psychological harm to others.

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