US employers have been legally responsible for effectively dealing with employee stress via Worker’s Compensation laws and similar legislation for decades. As a 1985 Harvard Business Review article explains, “Managers can no longer choose whether to recognize and deal with the symptoms of stress on the job—it has become a legal obligation. The enormous rise in employee compensation suits that cite stress as the source of emotional or physical disabilities is due not to an act of Congress or a ruling of the Supreme Court but rather to three trends…” That legislative reality might explain why incidents of “going postal” have won serious recognition within the mental health and employment worlds. However, despite the concern and focus on dealing with plus preventing employee depression, the problem has not decreased over time.
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive organization captures the seriousness of the matter in one quote from Wimbledon, England’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD): “Managers need to know what stress is; and also understand what skills, abilities and behaviours are necessary to manage employees in a way that minimises work-related stress.”
The stark reality, despite legislation to prevent workplace violence in any country and compassion about it, is that addressing employee depression is not significantly reducing, nor otherwise affecting, the rates of American workplace violence. Losses of sales and time at work are mounting. Statistics vary somewhat between the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Centers for Disease Control CDC – Occupational Violence – NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health organization, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other organizations monitoring the problem, but all of them share the evidence that deeply unhappy employees can end or ruin their own lives plus those of people around them. The effect on time and sales lost due to the problem hardly compares to the devastation of lives. The point seems to be somewhat lost in the corporate world, though.
Fortune 500 companies, among others, have been known to conduct weekends for promoting relaxation and camaraderie, but returning their staff members back to brutal schedules that induce strokes, heart attacks and divorces, let alone gray hair. Television shows and movies have made fun of the reality. A 2014 The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship article in Inc. magazine cited the cost in terms of lives and the quality of lives: Debilitating anxiety, depression that sometimes ends in suicide, and so on. Sales plummet with employee stress, loss of time at work, shattered lives and the consequences that follow those developments (orphans, bankruptcy, etc). Mental health professionals are well aware of the vicious cycle, but limited in the ability to stop or to heal it. As long as financial wealth remains a popular American goal, despite its human cost, victims will be hurt as they seek their fortunes in untenable situations.
The culture of feasting on fame and fortune destroys its fans. Articles, books and blogposts about “Why I Quit/Left My Lucrative Career” abound, and all of them cite the increased quality of life that results from leaving the rat race behind.
Consider the wisdom of the tale about a man in an expensive suit who scolds a fisherman to drop his pole, invest in a net to catch more fish in less time so that he can make more money faster. “Then you can invest profits in a fleet of fishing boats. You can earn the income to retire early and enjoy the leisure of fly fishing,” the displaced executive exclaims. The scolded man turns his head slowly in the direction of his critic and drawls, “I skipped the heart attack, divorce and corporate lawsuits from jealous competitors by retiring early. I have a nice life fly-fishing, eating meals in peace and sharing time with my loving family. You might want to stop hollering at me so to lower your blood pressure, boss. Y’already suffered one stroke and lotsa alimony judgments.”
Ignoring Employee Depression Will Cost Time and Sales, let alone quality of life. As people leave work to better handle and to end their despair, it is long past time that the culture of bling, bigger bank accounts and broken lives come to a halt. Quality of life is cheap: You stop paying for it with a misguided life.