Mental Load

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How Workload, Stress, and Anxiety Impact Productivity at Work

Happy employees make happy customers. When employees believe their work is valued and they find respect and peace in the workplace, the quality of the service or product your company provides will greatly impact how many customers are happily spreading the word about your business. But what happens when the opposite is true and employees believe they are undervalued, their creative qualities are stifled, they do not have a clear understanding of their job roles, or they feel too hard-pressed to make deadlines? When employees don’t have an open line of communication with their employers and are experiencing stress, fatigue, anxiety, or are undergoing micromanagement while completing their assigned tasks, it will start to create a heavy mental load and ultimately affect productivity.   

“Mental load is the feeling of being overwhelmed trying to effectively and efficiently manage different roles — people start to feel very stressed, and maybe sometimes even anxious with the number of goals and responsibilities that they’re trying to manage,” said Karla Arredondo, an occupational therapist and owner of Feminae Women’s Health and Holistic Services, a women’s health practice that embraces the mind-body connection of women during their prenatal and postnatal stages.

More often, mental load affects people with jobs that require a lot of creativity, like teaching, marketing, advertising, writing, film, owning a restaurant, and many more careers with multiple potential outcomes based on individual ingenuity. It happens when meeting the bottom line isn’t coupled with creative opportunity, when deadlines become too burdensome and quantity outweighs quality in the workplace, or when there’s not an equal opportunity for communication and collaboration.

“We think that the most important part of our job is being productive,” Arredondo said.  

And while production is ultimately the goal, the quality of the product should matter.

Many employers make the mistake of getting caught up in production without taking into account that each varied task requires strategic planning or creative brainstorming that should be included into the workload and counted as valuable. Employees frantically scramble around to “produce, produce, produce,” and creative opportunity is squelched. The more common saying is giving reverence to what is happening “behind the scenes,” even to the employee outside of work. And making sure employers understand how workload or work assignments are affecting the employee.

“When we just look at the workload and not take into account mental and emotional well-being it can lead to burnout, and can lead to more serious conditions related to someone’s mental and emotional well-being — looking just at a visible list of things someone needs to do while ignoring their well-being is a very incomplete approach,” Arredondo said.

Frank Mitchell, an independent contractor for HealthMarkets Health Insurance, which services the Valley, explains all companies are in the business of making money. Ultimately, there has to be a profit to make the business successful and every employee is hired to add value to the company in some way. And while employers are advised to evaluate their employees, provide constructive feedback, and redirect or reprimand when necessary, they should still take time to listen to the concerns of their employees and help them where applicable.

“Management’s sole purpose other than making sure they get the most out of every employee is figuring out a way to help their employees meet their goals and be a part of the process — the happier you can get those people, the better the results will be,” Mitchell said. “Checking up on your employees and reviewing their progress is important, but sitting down and grilling somebody about how far along they are with something or if they’ve met their goals is a lazy way to do it.”

Employers will notice signs of their employees being overworked, stressed, or fatigued in the workplace if they start to come in too early, stay too late, or work during their lunch break multiple times. They might also become combative or resentful of their co-workers, not receptive to new information, or show tense body language — especially at meetings with their supervisors.

But thankfully there are solutions. Both Mitchell and Arredondo agree that education on the matter and consistent communication, which includes active listening, are among some of the leading solutions to fostering amity in the workplace.

“Communication of course is the key — a supervisor or a business owner has to have an open door of communication with their employees so that their employees can say, without being condemned for it, ‘I can’t finish that’ or ‘that’s too much — I need an extra three hours or three days,’ whatever the case may be,” Mitchell said. “Management has to be receptive receiving that information so that they can decide whether it’s the right thing to do and of course to get the results that they’re looking for — that’s what management is about.”

Another way to support quality of products or services and minimize stress in the workplace is allowing for employees to be creative, even if it includes working on projects outside of their assigned job roles. Management needs to listen and evaluate new ideas, and give employees time to collaborate, plan, and brainstorm.   

“When you allow somebody to be creative on something other than what they’ve been assigned, it helps them think outside the box on what they have been assigned,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell also recommends social activities outside of the workplace that promote togetherness and team building. Minimizing stress- and anxiety-related health issues can even include granting employees a set number of paid time off without hassle, and supplying health insurance.

Employees who enjoy their job use their sick days less often, take the time to do their best, have fresh and creative ideas, and bring in happy customers.

For more information on small business health insurance with HealthMarkets, contact Frank Mitchell at fmitchell@healthmarkets.com. And for more information on women’s health occupational therapy, contact Karla Arredondo at (956) 224-9294 or visit www.feminaehealth.com.