Mental health problems are common in the workplace. Stress in particular represents an extremely significant problem for employers with, at any one time, around one in six workers experiencing depression, anxiety or other stress related problems.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in one form or another has been around since the 1950’s, but has, in recent years, become more widely used and recognised. The underlying concept behind CBT is that thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behaviours, a natural response is the avoidance of the situation that causes such thoughts and feelings in the first place. CBT is effective in supporting individuals overcome such maladaptive behaviour.
I have always associated therapy as an assist to overcome personal mental health issues such as addiction, phobias, OCD and eating disorders, and never really considered how this approach to reprogramming our mind and therefore our actions, can be applied in work. And why not? The principles are the same.
In the same way someone may avoid flying because of the constant fear that the plane will crash, someone may avoid going for a promotion because of the irrational fear of failure.
When applying CBT to the above examples, the core theory is that it’s not the actual situation that causes the person to be upset, but how the individual perceives that situation and what the individual’s thoughts and beliefs are about that situation (cognitive), and how those feelings manifest themselves through their actions (behavioural).
The fear of flying is easily avoidable, if not tackled. Whilst workplace anxiety is not so easy to avoid, and if not treated can lead to continuous maladaptive behaviour resulting in low self esteem, depression and even panic attacks. And whilst the individual is suffering, so is the business. An underperforming, unmotivated, distressed employee (if not on sick leave), all because they became a victim of their own thoughts and fears.
Many businesses are recognising mental health as an issue and reaping the benefits of tackling it by offering access to psychotherapeutic treatment.
Who would have thought that the confectionary industry would suffer with high levels of sickness due to mental health problems? After all, a Mars a day helps you work rest and play! However, in 2006 Mars UK decided to tackle their growing level of sickness absence by training their team of OH therapists in the art of CBT. As the case in the UK generally, mental health was one of the biggest causes of long term sickness at Mars UK. But within 2 years they more than halved its absence levels from 6% a year, on average, to 3%. Mars UK OH Manager at the time, described CBT as ‘an absolutely invaluable skill’.
Whilst CBT has been proven to tackle serious mental health issues, reduce sickness absence, it can also help with minor adjustment to attitudes.
You’re rushing to an new business meeting in your car, when you get caught up in a jam caused by a pile up on the motorway, meaning that you may be late. You can react by shouting and swearing at no one in particular, tell yourself that there is no point carrying on as you were not going to win the business anyway and might as well give up your job. Extreme I know, but these are behaviours that can be displayed if you allow your feelings to control. Alternatively, you could tell yourself that you’ve had a lucky escape not to be caught up in the pile up further along. Hope the client will be understanding to a situation that is out of your control and sit back and enjoy the peace whilst you wait for the traffic to move along. Whether you win the business or not, who has had the more positive experience?
Our brains are programmed to tell us when we are worried, upset or angry about something, it’s human nature. But some of us react to those thoughts through destructive behaviours which can have life limiting consequences in all walks of life. More businesses could tune into the potential of helping their employees overcome these cycles by embracing CBT and offering as part of a wider programme of support / development. After all, therapy isn’t for everyone, but I truly believe that with minds as complex as ours, we may all benefit from some therapy at times!
Nicola Morris, NovoLtd