Managers, learn about working conditions and mental health

Every manager needs to know the relationship between working conditions and the mental health of employees.

Whether you are a project manager, product manager, Scrum Master, Product Owner, CEO, or HR manager, this article is for you.

Mental health is related to the ability of people to adapt to the changing demands of the environment, as well as the way they do it.

Work occupies a significant part of a person’s life, therefore changes in the content and working conditions are important factors for mental health. The family environment also significantly determines the development of the individual and his mental health.

The main merit is Kornhauser, who published his research (1965), proving the connection between working conditions and mental health. After the 1970s, more and more attention was paid to the problem. Reference: “Objectives of Human Resources Management (HRM)“,

Definition and components

There is no single definition of mental health. Perceptions of it depend primarily on the dominant value system. The existing definitions are rather complementary. The importance that people attach to the situation plays a role in shaping their self-esteem.

According to Rainer, for example, “a person is as good as he feels.” This definition includes as components of mental health: life satisfaction and experiencing happiness.
Life satisfaction and happiness, as indicators of mental health, are mainly studied by sociologists. Recent developments in the relationship between job satisfaction and life satisfaction lead to the conclusion that experiences and activities in the non-professional sphere can irradiate and influence professional behavior. In this sense, they may be more important for mental health.

In Sable’s model, the deterioration of mental health is not directly determined by the objective load but is related to the mismatch between the individual and the environment. Therefore, when the requirements of the job are perceived as exceeding the subjective competence and when they contradict the subjective expectations and claims, they are factors for deteriorating mental health.
Achieving goals in life, and realizing one’s life plan are also factors and components of mental health. This type of concept states that mental health is the result of achievement and activity. Reference: “Development of the Human Resources Management (HRM) concept“,

Other management concepts

Other concepts emphasize the importance of functioning and activity itself. Functional activity is considered to be one of the main factors in mental health. Mental health is associated with competence, which is described through action and effectiveness. Subjective competence is a generalized concept of the individual’s how well he or she copes with problems and is based on assessments of the interaction between the individual and the environment over a longer period.

Kornhauser defines mental health as a relationship of perfect balance with the world. This balance allows the individual to maintain realistic positive ideas about himself and his activities. Significance for the deterioration of mental health is what deprives a person of purpose and joy, which leaves him with negative ideas and feelings about himself, which leads to anxiety, tension, feelings of helplessness, and emptiness.

Becker and Minsel (1987) try to distinguish health symptoms from disease symptoms, arguing that the expression of excellent health is not only the absence of disease but also the severity of signs of health and disease. According to Becker, mental health is a continuous continuum of the degree of health and disease, ie. an individual is not just healthy or sick, but more or less healthy or sick. Therefore, there are many profiles of health and disease.

However, mental health has to do with two things:

– emotional well-being;
– mental competence.

One of the most widespread and recent theories is the model of Peter Warr (Warr, 1990). According to him, “emotional well-being” means more than “job satisfaction”. And occupational mental health includes:

– emotional well-being;
– subjective (mental) competence;
– autonomy;
– level of claims;
– integral functioning;
– workability. Reference: “Evolution of the concept of Human Resources Management (HRM)“,

Often, emotional well-being is considered in general, as a measure with two poles: “I feel good” – “I feel bad”. However, according to many authors, it is better to use two separate dimensions (statistically independent variables).

Emotional self-esteem should also be examined on two separate axes: “anxiety/satisfaction” and “depression/enthusiasm” (located diagonally in a defined two-dimensional space). The dimensions are interconnected, but their separate consideration provides an opportunity to enrich the research.

According to War, mental competence (as a second component of mental health) is the ability to cope with external and internal demands and to overcome difficulties in life. The competent individual has adequate psychomotor resources to deal with difficulties.

It is wrong to consider all types of low competence as an indicator of poor mental health, as every person in a certain field is more or less incompetent! Some people are too incompetent, but do not realize it – then the decisive factor is the effect of incompetence on emotional well-being. So, insufficient competence, which has no negative consequences on self-esteem, is not considered harmful to health.

Many empirical data show that experienced competence protects people from stress reactions. Based on the link between good mental health and job satisfaction, it could be expected that professional qualifications can be a source of good self-esteem and hence good mental health.

According to Warr’s classification, the third component of mental health is autonomy, understood as an individual feature of resisting the environment and self-determining one’s own beliefs and actions. It is considered in different concepts. Read more:

Eg in the so-called “internal localization of control” – the attitude to believe that you can cope with difficulties and are not subject to external forces. Often, excessive autonomy, as well as too limited, are undesirable for good mental health. It is primarily about conditions of interdependence, not extreme independence.

Poor decision-making opportunities and the external certainty of the work situation lead to the adjustment of claims to working conditions, but at the expense of the development and health of the individual, which is associated with dissatisfaction and “burnout”. go out; understand it figuratively probably – VV).

The fourth component is aspirations. A mentally healthy person is characterized by an interest in the environment, is involved in current events, sets goals, and works to achieve them.

The increased level of claims is reflected in motivated behavior, as well as in the search for new opportunities, investing in satisfying activities.

Low claims are characterized by reduced activity, acceptance of the existing situation (status quo), and reduced interest in events and the situation.
The claims are related to the growth, self-improvement, and self-realization of the individual.

The fifth component is the general (integral) functioning. This component differs qualitatively from the others and applies to a particular individual as a whole. It is related to the complex relationships between the previous 4 components.
In mentally healthy people there are different forms of balance (harmony), which can be subjectively perceived as a sense of identity, or coherence.

The important characteristic “self-esteem” is represented by all 5 components. The feeling of the combination of the 5 components becomes the basis for experiencing one’s wholeness, which is also the basis of mental health.

Work can affect most of the components of mental health, but the structure and mechanisms of the share of work and the general situation (in the family, in society, etc.) are still not fully understood.

Relationships between workplace characteristics and mental health components

There is a tendency to apply simple linear relationships between workplace characteristics and mental health components. But mentally, health does not always respond linearly to changes in the environment. Changes in the essential characteristics of the work are significant only in certain ranges of the respective values. There is a “plateau” in which the additional beneficial effects of the environment do not lead to increased mental health.

There are two groups of work-related factors that are important for mental health:

Factors with a lasting effect on mental health:

– safety and security at work;
– recognition and social status;
– availability of the necessary material security.

Factors with additional deteriorating effects on mental health:

– a type of control;
– lack of opportunity to use the abilities;
– externally set goals;
– uniformity;
– ambiguity about the requirements of the environment;
– an impossibility for interpersonal contacts.

Systematizing the data on the impact of control, Fress emphasizes that the combination of lack of control and stress leads to general passivity, depression, and psychosomatic complaints. In the opposite case – when the work is strongly controlled, stress reactions also develop (anxiety, apathy, insecurity, indecision). Therefore, it should be clear that both strong control and lack of control harm mental health. Ie the relationship between the parameters of the work environment and mental health is not linear!

There are two ways to improve mental health in the workplace:

1) Individual consultation.
2) Design and organization of the content of the work, environmental conditions, etc. (this approach characterizes the so-called humanization of labor).