In business, it’s important to recognise the extent to which changes may affect employee mental health, especially given we don’t always know what personal trials we are adding to in people’s lives. When it comes to mental health, it’s impossible to separate the personal from professional.
Here, we’ve ranked changes according to psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe’s Social Readjustment Scale, used extensively in studies since its development in 1967. It attributes ‘Life Change Units’ to events within a 12-month period. The higher the score, the more likely the individual is to encounter mental health conditions. For reference, the death of a spouse is rated 100 on the scale.
- Dismissal or redundancy (47 Life Change Units)
- Retirement (45 Life Change Units)
- Business readjustment (39 Life Change Units)
- Change in financial state (38 Life Change Units)
- Change in frequency of arguments (35 Life Change Units)
- Change in work responsibilities (29 Life Change Units)
- Outstanding personal achievement (28 Life Change Units)
- Trouble with boss (23 Life Change Units)
- Change in working hours or conditions (20 Life Change Units)
- Holidays (13 Life Change Units)
It’s no surprise that dismissal clocks in at the top of workplace changes that can impact the mental health of employees. If dismissal or redundancy is necessary, it’s important to support the employee as much as practicable as they leave the business.
Retirement, while often treated as something to celebrate, can be a difficult life change for many people, whether it’s a personal choice or not.
It’s important to note that while business restructures don’t need to directly affect an employee’s position in the business to have an impact. Change is one of the six key areas which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlight as being influential when looking at the risk of workplace stress. It’s critical to communicate changes well and remain transparent in order to safeguard employee wellbeing.
There’s no distinction in this change between positive or negative financial states. Adjustments to remuneration, be they raises or cutbacks, can both have an impact.
It’s important that employees tasked with defending change, championing projects or managing people are supported when they’re fighting on multiple fronts. Of course, ‘arguments’ should ideally be discussions, but it’s important line managers are aware of just how embattled their reports may be.
Again, some employees will relish the idea of more, or even less, responsibility while others will not. In any case, it’s important to note that even those that welcome more responsibility on the surface may harbour deeper concerns about them that need to be worked through.
This one appears to be nothing but positive, but the pressure of achieving even a personally very meaningful goal will still add to the total level of demand that we may face and can add to stress levels and add performance pressure.
Relationship and communication breakdown between line managers and their reports is one of the more obvious candidates for this list and it’s important to make it clear to employees who they can approach when issues arise. Indeed, conflict with managers or at work is a leading reason for people to seek help with their mental health according to a 2015 report by the OECD. Employers often do not identify behaviour change and conflicts as warning signs. So, having the right awareness among managers and effective means of providing support are key to limiting distress among your workforce.
Changes of this nature come relatively far down the list, however, they can be volatile for some employees. The score attributed here certainly needs to consider the scale of the change and what other impacts it has. For example, a cut in hours will also impact the employee’s financial state.
When someone is stressed, a usual office refrain might be: ‘you need some time off, take a holiday’. But holidays can come with the heightened workload on either side of the break, financial stress and challenging organisation.
This list and the associated figures are estimates and the extent to which they impact wellbeing will vary from person to person. Use this guide to understand the potential impact of multiple life change events within a short space of time and how the accumulation of change may affect colleagues. Click here for more details on the scale and what the figures mean.
Last updated Thursday 5 October 2017
First published on Tuesday 3 October 2017