Privacy is a concept very well confused in our culture today. In an era where almost all of our electronic devices track our everyday move, our psychographics and socio-economic decisions give life to Big Data and Artificial Intelligence to sell the next big thing, without our permission, and social media networks know where we go and what we do and with whom we do it with every minute of the day, other aspects of our lives, our trials and tribulations, and struggles which are simply part of the human condition such as unemployment, depression, disability and mental illness are considered private issues. Well, are they a matter of privacy or are they more a matter of not wanting to deal with real agendas?
In an effort to respect employees’ privacy, many employers avoid employees’ mental health concerns. However, like it or not, these issues have a tendency to make their way into the workplace. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 43.8 million adults in the United States experience mental illness in any given year.
Yes, there are Employment Laws and Fair Labor Standards, but in a world where yesterday’s hero is today’s villain and due to hopelessness and limited Emotional Intelligence, a majority fall in to co-dependant status, villains can easily pose as leaders and saviors. So what is the real solution?
Even ignoring the lack of support and clear danger to the quality of life of the employee, purely calculating the costs it is clear that employers can’t afford to ignore mental health issues in the workplace.
Last Thursday, as the New York Times reported that Harvey Weinstein, the face of the entertainment company had been accused of sexually harassing women, both inside and outside of his company for over nearly three decades, it was yet another wake up call that mental disorder is not necessarily a silent killer. One might ask, how sexual harassment is a mental disorder. Well, according to the Wikipedia definition “Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors”. In a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
Finnish researchers have recently discovered that bullying could result in serious mental disorders. While victims of bullying are more likely to develop anxiety disorders, or already suffer from it, the bullies themselves were at higher risk for having or developing antisocial personality disorder. Therefore it is fair to say that sexual harassment has its roots in perceived power or lack thereof. And as opposed to popular belief, recognition of mental disorder in morally questionable individuals who we may not approve of such as Donald Trump, does not reinforce the negative stigmas associated mental illness, but rather adds to the negative stigmas.
The World Health Organization and the National Business Group on Health indicate that mental and behavioral health conditions have direct costs as much as $100 billion for employers. And when one factors in indirect costs, such as loss of productivity and the influx of disability claims, you are now faced with a major disaster.
At first Weinstein had announced that he would take a leave of absence. However, then he began fighting and contesting the allegations. It took three directors to resign, before the company board fired the founder on Sunday.
The trouble here is two-fold: Weinstein was a founder and top executive, and hence a decision-maker. However what happens when we turn a blind eye to a culture gone wrong is that, as employees, the same infrastructure we hoped would be supported by our attempts at passivity, would turn around to disintegrate, but this time without notice.
While as employers playing mental health professionals is not wise, providing clear boundary setting education to the entire employee population on mental health issues and the importance of clearly defined boundaries is expected.
An employer’s efforts to bring to light realities, helps destigmatize mental illness and allows others to come out of the shadows and seek treatment. employees recognize its prevalence can help employees feel more comfortable acknowledging that they’re struggling in some way.
While In addition to costs, employers have a legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to refrain from discriminating against individuals with mental illness, they are also obligated to abide by the same guidelines in treating employees vs. founders. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are two types of sexual harassment: a) quid pro quo and 2) hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can be physical and psychological in nature. It’s important to note that it is the aggregate of the incidents and not a single event that constitutes harassment and work hours and location don’t have a bearing on this definition.
Langelan describes four different classes of harassers.
- Predatory harasser This is a harasser who gets sexual thrills from humiliating others. The goal of this harasser is to just to see how targets respond. No response could even lead to rape.
- Dominance harasser is the most common type, and usually is for the purposes of an ego boost.
- Strategic or territorial harassers are those who harasss to remain dominant or keep privileges.
- Street harasser: This is verbal and/or nonverbal behavior, with frequent appearance in public to embarrass.
Overall, the culture of an organization is defined by its leadership and if leadership does not walk the talk, then there is no atmosphere of trust or a moral code, and as a result, there are no boundaries or expectations that employees can rely on. In a 2012 study of male adolescent American football players, “the strongest predictor [of bullying] was the perception of whether the most influential male in a player’s life would approve of the bullying behavior”.