The mental dimension of performance has been receiving a lot of attention recently – for all the wrong reasons. Statistics Canada recently reported that stress-related absences cost employers $3.5-billion annually, and that health costs for employees reporting high levels of stress are 50% above average . In another study, the Business And Economic Roundtable on Mental Health called depression at work “the unheralded business crisis in Canada”, and noted that “workplace stress is a factor in the onset of mental illness” . Given that mental health issues comprise 75% of short-term and 79% of long-term disability claims , the cost of neglecting employees’ mental well-being is staggeringly high.
Clearly, the mental well-being of employees directly impacts the bottom line. And herein lies the opportunity.
Focusing on the development of employees’ mental fitness skills is an untapped lever for growing the bottom line that is completely within the control of the organization. And, it represents a tremendous opportunity that extends beyond reducing the negative impact of stress – an opportunity to improve performance under pressure, increase employee engagement, and create an environment of trust that fosters productivity.
Improved Performance Under Pressure
The skills of mental fitness originate in the field of Sport Psychology – a discipline dedicated to studying excellence under intense pressure. As the physical aspects of sport, such as training regimens and nutrition, have become more standardized at the elite level, who wins and loses is increasingly determined by the mental fitness of the athlete. The situation in business is extremely similar. As the talent pool becomes increasingly skilled and better educated, the true competitive advantage comes from having people who can access their skills and knowledge when it matters most – when the pressure is on.
While it was once thought that mental fitness was something innate within an individual, our work with elite level sport has shown us that it can be taught, learned, practiced and mastered. It is a set of skills just like any other and is an essential complement to the technical skills any job requires.
Increased Employee Engagement
A recent Towers Perrin study of over 35,000 employees found that more than 60% of employees are only ‘moderately’ engaged and could easily slide to the wrong end of the engagement scale. The study concluded that strengthening the engagement of this group, whom they term “the massive middle”, may be “the most critical task virtually every employer faces today”. The study also outlined the 10 major drivers of employee engagement, of which the number one driver was “senior management’s interest in employees’ well-being. ”
With 1 in 3 employees reporting high levels of stress , one of the most effective ways senior management can demonstrate interest in their employees’ well-being is to take visible action to recognize and address the pressures they face through mental fitness training.
An Environment of Trust
The bedrock of a mentally healthy work environment is trust. Distrust at work is a key predictor of absenteeism and disability rates , and an impediment to the open flow of information. The foundation of an environment of trust is ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to valuing your employees – backing up statements like ‘people are our greatest asset’ with action. Giving your employees the opportunity to develop the mental fitness skills they need to pro-actively manage the stressors in their lives is one of the most powerful ways to start building an environment of trust.
Mental Fitness: A Win-Win Proposition
Developing mental fitness drives employee engagement and builds trust. Mentally fit employees perform under pressure and take responsibility for managing their stress. The benefits of investing in mental fitness are substantial for both individuals and the organization. If you want to create an environment of trust where engaged employees consistently perform at their best, building mental capability needs to be a key component of your plan.
Graham Lowe, Trust can Ease the Stress (The Globe and Mail, October 22, 2003)
The Unheralded Business Crisis in Canada: Depression At Work (Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health, July 2000)
Staying@Work 2005 (Watson Wyatt Canada, April 2005) Retrieved from http://www.watsonwyatt.com/news/press.asp?ID=14547 on April 22, 2005
Working Today: Understanding What Drives Employee Engagement (Towers Perrin Inc. , 2003)
Sandra Stark is a Toronto-based high performance consultant. She co-founded and is a principle program designer at Performance Coaching Inc. , where she helps organizations achieve healthy high performance through skills-based coaching and mental fitness training programs. Sandra also works with a number of Olympic athletes and teams, providing training in sport psychology and one-on-one coaching support. For information on all of Performance Coaching's programs, log on to http://www.performancecoaching.ca