Mental or Physical Illness–Which is the Bigger Workforce Problem?

I just returned from London, where I spoke to a gathering of European business leaders focused on creating healthier workplaces at the annual Enterprise for Health conference. I won’t tell you here how much fun it was, as the pre-dinner keynote speaker, to try to keep the attention of 125 ravenously hungry people while we were cruising up and down the Thames. But I do want to share with you my surprise at what I heard during one of the fascinating panel discussions earlier in the day.

Many readers know first-hand about how crippling health care costs are crushing the growth prospects of many businesses. What I hadn’t known was that the most pressing and costly health care issues in the workplace are no longer physical ailments, as in days of yore, but mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and what’s called “presenteeism”–when you’re physically present but psychologically absent, hence under-performing. Would you have thought this to be true? Even more compelling is the realization that, because of the stigma still associated with mental illness, its incidence is under-reported. This is a major issue for the business world, and an increasing one, according to the experts who spoke at this conference. I am eager to hear from readers about how you see mental health problems affecting their work organizations and ideas about what can be done to address them.

Among the more interesting observations our research team has made, when examining the impact of the Total Leadership program on performance in all domains of life, is that the greatest gains are in what we call the “self” domain, that part of life that involves physical and emotional health, and spiritual growth and development (the other three domains are work, home, and community). This result is in part due to the fact that people tend to put themselves and their own personal needs last.

We ask participants to rate, before and after going through the Total Leadership process, on a scale of 0 to 100 percentage points, how important are each of the four domains and how they allocate their actual attention in a typical week. Does it surprise you to learn that there’s typically a pretty big gap between how important the “self” stuff is and how much attention people give it? Probably not.

Our participants also rate, before and after, their satisfaction and performance in each domain. Better alignment between their everyday actions and their values (e.g., shifting more attention to their physical, emotional and spiritual lives) led to increased satisfaction in all domains, especially in mind, body and spirit, as well as to better performance in all domains, even work — but especially the self.

I am eager to conduct a more detailed exploration of which aspects of the self domain our program benefits most. Anecdotally, it’s clear that the greater sense of control, confidence, focus, and optimism that results — changes in one’s mental health, that is — are the primary source of the renewed strength to perform better in the other domains of work, home, and community. I know there is great work being undertaken around the world to make work less psychologically toxic. Fill us in on what you know about this issue and what you’d like to know more about.

3 Responses to “Mental or Physical Illness–Which is the Bigger Workforce Problem?”

  1. Susan Reda says:

    Attended lecture this morning through GSK and would like to sign up for future web events. Please add my name to email list so that I do not miss any upcoming opportunities. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Susan. Please go to this and give us your info:

  3. Ramamurthy P says:

    I think that one of the reasons for mental illness is focusing only on a part of the life and not the complete or total life. Total Leadership could definitely help us in focusing on the Total life and gain better perspectives and live better as a Complete Person.

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