We've all heard and made jokes for years about taking off for "mental health days," but a recent report by the United Health Foundation highlights just how real this issue is.
The "America's Health Rankings" report, using survey data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, says that, on average, Americans report losing 3.3 days each month to "poor mental health." That means that they felt unable to perform their normal activities on those days. Combined with the 3.6 days lost to "poor physical health," that means Americans feel sick almost one full week out of each month.
What does this mean for managers? Well, obviously neither we nor our employees have access to that much sick leave. That means many people are routinely showing up for work when they feel physically or mentally impaired—a phenomenon workplace experts call "presenteeism." When people are actually ill with colds, flu or other infectious diseases, this can be bad news for teams.
It's worth being flexible with your scheduling, or supporting telecommuting, to keep your whole staff from getting sick. Although the effects are less clear-cut, it's also true that people who aren't feeling or performing at their best can "infect" teams with poor morale and low productivity, even when their conditions aren't contagious in the medical sense.
Certainly, stress has a way of spreading when it goes unmanaged within a team. So it's also a good idea to use those same flexible strategies when workers are emotionally overwhelmed, or feeling physically run-down without being "sick."