November 9, 2020

Five ways mental health issues can impact productivity

By Nika Kabiri, JD PhD


Most of the time, when organizations think about productivity, they think about how much work is completed and how efficiently that work was done. But we can’t forget about what happens around that work being produced, and the context of employee wellness.

To be at their most productive, your employees need to avoid making bad decisions. Good decision-making is hard on a good day, because we humans too often rely on biases and mental short-cuts, and we’re too often swayed by social and cultural influences both inside and outside of our business environment. That’s harder to do if members of your team are struggling with mental health issues like stress, anxiety or depression.

Good decision-making is especially difficult for employees dealing with mental or emotional health issues. Ensuring behavioral wellness among your employees should be a high-priority objective for any company seeking to improve productivity. Here are five behavioral and mental health challenges your employees may be facing, and how they make be impacting their decision making and productivity.

1. Stress can lead to poorly-informed and impulsive decision-making.

According to research in psychology, stress can impair short-term memory , making it hard to retain information that may be necessary for making the right choices. Stress also makes people more comfortable with risk-taking – more so for men than women. Other research suggests that in some circumstances, stress can cause people to impulsively choose habitual options , rather than considering new choices that could be better.

2. Anxiety leads to distracted decision-making.

Anxiety disrupts neurons in the prefrontal cortex , the area of the brain that engages in risk-reward calculation, emotional regulation, problem-solving, and decision-making. People suffering from anxiety are less flexible to adopting new strategic behaviors. They’re also more likely to be distracted by irrelevant external stimuli as they make their choices. Anxiety steals away your focus, making it challenging to weigh options adequately and calculate outcomes appropriately.

3. Depression leads to poor cost-benefit analysis that prioritizes short-term rewards.

Depression leads one to inaccurately assess pros and cons by making people more likely to expect disappointment with every choice they have. This makes people more likely to select outcomes with short-term benefits. In other words, when you’re depressed, you’re more likely to feel like any option you choose isn’t going to be good enough, so why try too hard making the right choice? Why not just choose whatever will reap benefits more immediately?

4. Other conditions can lead to indecisiveness, impulsivity, and risk-taking.

People with ADHD are easily distracted as they make decisions, by both internal thought and external stimuli. This means they have a hard time processing possibilities, weighing options, and arriving at the right decisions. People with obsessive-compulsive or hoarding disorders are more likely to be indecisive and uncomfortable with uncertainty , making their decision-making process shaky. Those with bipolar disorder are more likely to act impulsively and feel more immune to risk.

5. Sleep deprivation can lead to risky choices.

Among their many impacts, health conditions like anxiety and depression can prove disruptive to people’s sleep, and something funky happens to our brains when we don’t get enough sleep: we worry less about negative consequences that might arise from risky decisions. And if we don’t care about negative consequences, we’re more likely to take risks. Risks are okay, if they’re calculated and educated. But if your employees are diving into risky decisions head-first because they’re too sleep-deprived to slow down, mistakes will be made, and productivity will suffer.

Bad decision-making has costly consequences, in money, time, and human energy. If we lived in a perfect world, we’d make decisions rationally and objectively, without impulse, or bias, or social pressure. Even the most mentally and emotionally well among us find it hard to do this.

Add to that the struggle that comes with stress, anxiety, or depression – all of which are increasingly common conditions in today’s COVID world – and you have a lot of people trying hard to make good decisions but struggling to do so.

Productivity is not about working harder or longer. It’s not even about working smarter (most of the time). It’s about working healthier. Eliminating inefficiency and waste starts with wellness. Ignore this, and your company may be making a bad decision of its own.

To make sure you’re providing your employees with all the tools they need to address mental health concerns, contact an Accolade representative and learn more about Mental Health Integrated Care today.