The most common workplace mental illnesses are depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
If your co-worker is depressed, anxious or has unpredictable mood swings, you are likely to be affected.
Your mental health can suffer due to the mental health issues of others in your workplace.
There are many more unreported mental health incidents that happen in the workplace and cause other employees to be impacted. The good news is that businesses are beginning to adjust to having employees with mental health disorders. The bad news is that a co-worker’s mental health disorder can have an effect on all employees and create a negative working environment.
It would be nice if a negative co-worker could just own up to having a problem and everyone work together to find a solution so that everyone can be successful.
However, employees go to great lengths to hide their mental illness.
Medscape reports reasons for this include fears of their mental illness being held against them in some way. Evidence that this may be true comes from The New York Times who reported on a study where participants revealed they received negative treatment after revealing they had a mental health illness to their boss.
Some did not receive promotions and some claimed to have been bullied or treated differently in the office.
It is understandable they may not want to report having a mental illness.
But by hiding their mental illness they are creating problems for their co-workers. Mental health problems in the workplace can lead to lower productivity, lower job satisfaction, lower profits, absenteeism, cost of care, drop out rates higher.
Relationships at work are affected by an employee’s mental illnesses by causing tension and conflicts between colleagues, poor relationships with customers or clients, and increase in disciplinary actions. Some of these are discussed below.
Lower Job Satisfaction
Job satisfaction can be deeply affected when a co-worker is creating a strained environment.
It will be hard to find a person who loves going to a work environment where their co-workers complain all the time. A negative co-worker can make a person dread going to work. Eventually, they may even start to look for a new job with better co-workers.
The American Psychological Association reports that having positive relationships with co-workers increases job satisfaction. It makes sense that if you enjoy an environment, you want to be in that environment more and to also be successful in that environment. Motivation is enhanced when the atmosphere is set up for success.
There is an impact of workplace relationship on job satisfaction. If your co-workers is making it difficult for you at work your relationship will be hindered and the less you will work. Over time you may begin to feel as if your job has little meaning, making it hard for you to see your contributions and accomplishments.
To avoid this it is important you seek help from your boss and other positive co-workers in developing a plan to combat the negativity of your co-worker. If this can’t be done, other areas of your work will be affected also, such as productivity.
The following employee behaviors may be signs of a mental health problem: missing deadlines, calling in sick, inability to take direction, unable to make decisions and even withdrawing altogether. When your co-worker misses deadlines it puts more pressure on you to pick up their slack.
However, it is impossible for you to do the work of two or three people successfully. When you try to take on more work, another area of your job will suffer.
When a co-worker calls in sick that is again putting more pressure on you to complete the job. If a co-worker is unable to take direction and criticism, they cannot be objective and open to bettering themselves.
This will have an impact on you because you will feel stuck in not knowing how to overcome this obstacle, making you drop your productivity rates to accommodate their shortfalls.
All of these symptoms create frustration among co-workers, leading to team members feeling angry and stressed and lowering overall productivity.
In a list of productivity killers, noisy and bothersome co-workers were some of the main culprits. It is hard for anyone to concentrate on a task when their co-worker is being a distraction.
A decrease in productivity can then lead to decreased profits and decreased satisfaction among customers.
Without customers and profits, there is no job. It is important to avoid distracting co-workers so that your job is completed on time and successfully.
Co-workers who behave badly, whether it is due to a mental illness or not, can lower morale among staff.
Every office seems to have that one co-worker who can make you want to run because you know what they have to say is negative. You see them coming towards you and in your mind you are thinking of excuses to get away.
A co-worker’s bad behavior can make all team members feel frustrated, angry, and even sad at times.
Examples of morale depleting behaviors some co-workers exhibit include taking credit for your work, talking about you behind your back, kissing up to the boss, or making nasty jokes.
Leaders in the company should make sure co-workers are being team players, being kind, and successfully completing their own jobs in order to increase morale among staff. Morale can be based on the effectiveness of a whole team.
If one team member is not pulling their weight, the whole team can suffer from exhaustion, frustration and disappointment, all of which decrease morale.
Leaders can offer recognition to positive staff members and find unusual ways to celebrate the differences among the employees. Morale building doesn’t have to come in the form of a vacation trip or prize money.
Just saying “thank you” or “good job” can make a staff member feel needed and appreciated.
This can do wonders for boosting morale and keeping the good employees working for a common goal.
A negative attitude can be contagious.
You start the day feeling upbeat and positive but after 7 hours of working next to a negative whiner, you start to see yourself whining also. Dealing with negative co-workers can be very difficult. It is such a downer to be around a person who is constantly talking bad about the job, complaining about their home life, or making detrimental comments about other staff.
Being around them can be completely depressing and anxiety provoking.
It is imperative you find ways to react, or not react, to a negative co-worker so that your mental health is not harmed. The way you respond to a negative co-worker is important and can set the tone for your working relationship for the duration of your time at that company.
Negative attitudes affect job performance, relationships with clients and can even determine if you stay with a job or leave for something better. Whether you think so or not, you can control your own attitude, even when working with someone who exhibits only negativity. Learn to disengage in conversations with people who complain.
Do not get dragged in to conflicts. Take actions to make sure your attitude remains positive despite what may be going on around you in the office.
Co-workers can behave in ways that can affect your self-esteem.
They can be manipulative, creating situations that make you feel incompetent. It is actually the negative co-worker who has a low self-esteem, making them feel as if they need to act poorly to better themselves.
Examples of co-workers who have low self-esteem include the ones who do not trust anyone else in the office, they are unable to make decisions, they are overly sensitive to feedback, and they never feel things are good enough. If you are continually hanging around the water cooler with a co-worker who only talks about their own faults, or you and your faults, your confidence levels will drop. One way to avoid this is to avoid the co-worker injecting the negativity into your life.
Just because you work in the same office does not mean you are required to be best friends with your co-workers. While many researchers have found good working relationships are key to being successful, the opposite is true as well.
Bad working relationships can lead to failure on projects, which can also lead to lower self-esteem.
Handle Workplace Mental Illness Successfully
So what can you do to avoid being negatively affected by a co-worker?
You cannot just get them fired. It is not that easy.
Co-workers with mental illnesses are often protected by laws supporting people with disabilities. Yes, mental illness is considered a disability. If your co-worker can link their negative attitude or behavior to a mental health disorder such as Bipolar, then they have a disability.
This means your boss cannot just fire them because they are a drag to be around. Under ADA co-workers with mental illnesses need to be handled with care. Steps to take include: addressing job performance, work with them not against them, offer reasonable accommodations for their emotional needs and their schedule when possible, ensure their confidentiality, and train others how to deal with them.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes the Department of Labor’s Job Accomodation Network can help employers find ways to assist their ill behaved employees in remaining in their jobs and being successful despite having a mental health issue. Creating a supportive work environment, removing stressors, and adjusting supervisory styles can all improve the work situation for a person with a disability and for those staff who are trying to do well in an unwell situation.
Furthermore, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an employer should provide the following for an employee suffering from a mental illness:
- Flexible work schedules or start times. If they struggle with bad temperaments in the mornings, try allowing them to work evenings.
- Reduced distractions or noise in the work area. Areas that are too noisy can induce anxiety or stress in a person, causing them to react in a negative way. By reducing the noise or distractions, you can reduce the negative reactions.
- Working from home or telecommuting. Some people feel more comfortable in their home environment and can be more productive there.
- Written directions and task lists. For some, it is hard to focus and remember oral instructions. There may be times when it is best to offer written instructions.
- Regular written or verbal feedback. Offer feedback on a weekly basis and be consistent with how the feedback is offered so they know what to expect.
- Quiet space to rest during a break. Some people need a time out to regroup and get back on the right track. Allow this time and space.
- Use of a job coach. Some will embrace this idea, others may reject it. But having it available shows you care about them and want to help them succeed.
The ultimate goal is to develop a work environment that helps all employees reach their fullest potential.
This begins with being able to recognize staff with mental health disorders early on in their career rather than waiting until too much damage has been done and repair is not attainable. The best thing a leader can do is reduce the stigma of having a mental health illness so that everyone feels comfortable discussing their issues with their team. By taking away the fear of losing a job, many workers will feel they can be truthful as to why they behave poorly and take strides to change.
When a person feels comfortable enough to open up and trust their colleagues, then the colleagues are more willing to stick with their co-worker through any difficult times. People do not just wake up in the morning and plan to ruin everyone else’s day. There is something going on with them mentally or medically that is causing them to behave in that manner. Show them you are on their side, express your concern, walk beside them through their improvement process.
You may notice improvements in yourself also.