Here is how much your mental health affects how much you earn.

by Graeme

Have you ever wondered how much your mental state is affecting your career? Before we answer that question, let’s consider another: Have you ever had a day at work where you just didn’t do your job as well as you knew you could?

Perhaps you hadn’t had a good sleep the night before, or had a cold or flu. Maybe you’d just had a fight with somebody you love, or got some bad news. Perhaps you were worried about an upcoming performance review. There are many reasons we can feel a little less engaged.

How productive are you on those kinds of days? How attentive were you during meetings? Did you avoid conversations that needed to get done because you didn’t want anything to go wrong? Chances are, you weren’t performing at your absolute best.

This sort of thing happens to everybody from time to time, but if you often show up to work and know that something is stopping you from doing your job as well as you can, chances are, it is.

And your employer notices, too. One study across multiple countries found that earnings reduced by a third, on average, when mental health issues were present. Said another way, mentally unwell workers earned, on average, 33% less (and sometimes, far less than that) than their healthy colleagues!

A Plurality of Problems

You can’t just assume it’s only the most extreme cases who suffer degraded job performance, though they are certainly prime candidates. Mental health encompasses many psychological phenomena, and each can have a wide variety of negative impacts in the workplace, regardless of how severe they may or may not feel. For example:

  1. Adults with ADHD commonly have impairments impacting their social, memory, motor-control, and planning skills. Jobs involving high amounts of coordination, personal interaction, or anticipation can become more difficult for those with ADHD. Paying attention during meetings, contributing to important discussions, coordinating and planning projects, and performing physical routines can all be problematic.
  2. Going through a break up is nothing uncommon, but if heartbreak is involved, it has some huge impacts on the chemistry of your brain and your overall experience. One of the changes that happens is that your emotional regulation system becomes significantly less active, making you more prone to obsessive and intrusive thoughts as well as overwhelming emotions and pain. Depression, anxiety, and sleeping and eating issues are all very common during heartbreak. All of these can have detrimental effects on your ability to focus, your motivation, and therefore your work efficacy.
  3. Grieving any significant loss, such as a death, is a well-known detriment to performance. So much so, bereavement leave is required by law in many places.

Understanding The Feedback Loop

The real harm though when it comes to any form of poor job performance is accrued over time. Everybody is going to have their off days, but when you are performing below others’ or your own expectations more often than not, your job satisfaction likely decreases. This can begin a cycle of disengagement, an especially dangerous problem for both you and your employer.

And the street goes both ways — it’s not just your mental health that affects your work. What begins with a bad performance review or something more subtle, such as dropped hints or cues that you aren’t doing your job as well as you used to, can feel like a lack of recognition. Very quickly, boredom can lead to losing focus on your job. The less you get done, the less satisfied you become. This leads to disengagement, therefore risking losing out on raises, promotions, or good reference opportunities.

This dissatisfaction with your job can lead to increased mental health issues both now and as you get older. One longitudinal study found that workers who experienced low job satisfaction through their 20s and 30s had significantly greater risk of five mental health outcomes in their 40s.

And so, we can see that unhappiness at our jobs can influence our mental health, which affects our job performance, which reduces our happiness at our job, and so on. The vicious cycle becomes a feedback loop that holds you back and reduces your financial well-being!

If you are concerned that you are caught in such a cycle yourself, or are noticing that your mental health may be impacting your job performance, there is much you can do to escape your current situation.

Getting Help

If you are struggling with your mental health, it is important that you seek professional help. Talk to your doctor about your difficulties and come up with a treatment plan. You or your doctor may feel talking with a therapist or counselor would be very helpful. You have many options that you should consider depending on your needs and wants.

Using Stress To Your Advantage

One important thing to know is that stress isn’t always bad. Over 100 years of research has continually confirmed that a moderate amount of stress, enough to recruit cognitive, emotional, and sensory power, is critical to achieving optimal performance. The challenge is in telling the difference between good and bad stress, especially if you aren’t used to thinking of it that way.

The really good news is that whether stress is good or bad for your actual health mostly depends on your attitude. One broad study found that even intense stress is only harmful most of the time when we believe it is. So the next time you start feeling the pressure, try reframing your stress in whatever positive light you can shed, until you can find healthy ways of reducing or otherwise managing it.

Poking the Fire

It often pays to look for a simple fix. If your work woes are caused by a disconnect between you and the people you work mostly with, or if you are getting bored of what you do, you can look for new opportunities adjacent to what you are already doing. That may look like transfering teams, applying for a new position within the same company, taking some time off, or taking on a new project.

If you are considering your easiest options, take a little time to evaluate what your current goals are and what you need to satisfy them before jumping at the first thing that stands out. It’s OK to take a pay cut if you end up in an opportunity that better aligns with your values. Pay isn’t everything, and doing something that is more satisfying will help you better define what success means to you! Besides, you never know what doors will open in the future by doing great work you care about right now.

Restarting the Fire

Sometimes a situation can’t be fixed until the situation is changed on the whole. If you have a poor relationship with coworkers or superiors, or you have become bored with your job, or you aren’t feeling appreciated for your work, it may be time to start handing out resumes and looking for a new opportunity.

Do consider whether it is the specific job or the career that is causing your unhappiness, though. While thinking about changing what you do to make money can be very scary, it’s important that you honestly assess the root cause of your unhappiness. If it’s time for you to take on a new career risk, spend a while planning and remember that it may be riskier to maintain your current course.

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully you are convinced that taking your mental health seriously can help you improve your satisfaction and performance on the job, and are a little more aware of the risks of stagnating in an unsatisfactory place. It’s okay if you feel the need to get a little extra help with processing your mental health problems and their complex relationships with your work.

We provide a quick guide that will help you choose the best way to get professional help in minutes. It compares the advantages and disadvantages of online and in-person therapy, and provides other information you may need in making a good decision.