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Supporting Mental Health at Work

July 16, 2019

Today, 1 in 5 American adults deal with mental illness, often the result of a workplace issue. That amounts to 43.8 million people. 

Mental health in the workplace is a serious issue to be aware of

Stress is the biggest mental health concern in America. With a fast-paced, technology-driven environment and a decrease in resources, employees are faced with additional stress levels that’s quickly lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and more.

Companies need to value the mental well-being of their employees as this is truly the biggest asset an employee has to offer. Good mental health has an impact on absenteeism, engagement, and productivity and all of these impact the bottom line. 

The facts of mental health in the workplace

A negative working environment can cause damage to the physical and mental well-being of employees.

Depression and anxiety in the workplace alone cost companies on a global scale approximately 1 trillion dollars annually in lost productivity.

There are many work-related risk factors that can help or hinder mental health. Most of these risks pertain to interactions with other employees, the organizational environment or management, and the amount of support available for employees.

For example: an employee who has the skills to do what is required of them but doesn’t have enough resources or is unsupported by management still runs the risk for mental health problems as a result of the inadequate resources or the lack of support for management.

The most common risks within a workplace to mental health include:

  •  inadequate policies for managing Mental Health
  •  bad communication among management and the organization
  •  a lack of participation in key decision-making or a lack of control over individual work
  •  low support for employees
  •  inflexibility with schedule
  •  unclear objectives or tasks

In situations where there isn’t a lot of social support were there isn’t cohesion among a group or a team such as a single department, these risks worsen.

Workplace harassment or bullying are equally common problems that negatively impact mental health.When employees are bullied or harassed psychologically by other employees or by their bosses it can result in psychological and subsequently physical problems which cost companies a lot of money in reduced productivity as well as turn over.

Why Do Employees Fail to Report Mental Health Issues in the Workplace?

The prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace is likely much higher than what is reported. while behind the scenes employees are well aware that almost all of their colleagues use some form of self-medication to combat the mental health issues that arise from their workplace environment, most employees will not report the issues they are facing to their employers.

There are many reasons why these issues are not reported.

One underlying issue with mental health issues in the workplace is that employees will regularly fail to report mental health issues to their employers. There are many reasons for this.

If, for example, someone is being bullied or harassed at work by another employee they could be threatened by that same employee if they disclose what is happening and that fear could prevent them from reporting not only be harassment but the subsequent mental health issues that results.

When management is the issue, it can be difficult to report mental health issues arising from a lack of resources, for managerial skills, or inadequate responsibilities because the person to whom that information would be reported is typically someone higher up the chain. In most of these situations that particular person is the one responsible for allowing an environment that leads to serious mental health issues.

For jobs that have more serious standards, qualifications, or clearances, the biggest issue is that employees are worried that disclosing mental health issues could harm their careers. In government positions in particular there is conflicting information about whether disclosing mental health problems will have a detrimental impact on careers and advancement there in. Nearly every government employee has a story about a colleague who was assured that coming forward wouldn’t harm their career and yet that’s exactly what happened.

Ways to support mental health in the workplace

It’s imperative to create a healthy workplace where everyone is protected and the safety and mental well-being of individuals is taken into consideration.

As an employer there are a handful of effective steps that can be taken to promote good mental health within the workplace and these benefits will naturally improve productivity. Offices that attempt to support employees who are suffering from mental health problems are more likely to increase productivity, decrease absenteeism and turnover, and improve economic games. Consider that for every $1 that is put into treatments and preventative measures, there is a return of $4 on productivity and improved health.

The ways in which employers can support mental health in the workplace are fairly simple. It involves enforcing better health and safety policies, including identifying any harmful behaviors that employees have. Communication plays a very big role in supporting mental health, specifically making it clear that employees who are having issues can openly report that without any negative consequences and at the same time can receive support not only from management but from outside third-party resources as necessary.

Organizations need to support their employees who are suffering from mental disorders whether it is through continuing to work or seeking outside help and then returning to work.

Companies should, first and foremost, consider:

  • offering confidential communication with management for those who are suffering from mental health issues and making it clear that such confidentiality is available
  • providing reassurance that individuals can ask for support or outside resources for mental issues without any stigma or risk to their careers
  • redesigning job titles with more specific instruction
  • offering flexible hours
  • addressing any negative dynamics in the workplace
  • providing access to evidence-based treatment for things such as depression or other mental disorders with the ability to return to work immediately thereafter with no detriment to their career,  much the same way that pregnant women are given maternity leave with the ability to return to work immediately thereafter

Top 3 Things to do in the Workplace

Create an open dialogue

First and foremost is to create an open door policy from the top down. Senior leaders in any organization need to have open conversations about mental health with all levels of employees. During this time it’s important to normalize that stress disorders happen to everyone and when they happen employees need to get help. It can be beneficial for companies to create titles among different levels of the organization such as “mental health champion”,  as the go-to person for a healthy dialogue. In situations where employees are uncomfortable going to a boss or someone higher up the chain of command, they can go to that mental health champion instead. Regularly reminding employees that everyone experiences different mental health issues and no matter that experience they can seek help and support is imperative.

Implement Better Policies

Your organization needs to provide some level of protection which might include rewriting existing policies or procedures so that employees can disclose mental health problems they are having and get access to the appropriate resources before things get worse. Changing the policies you have to make it clear that employees who come forward will not suffer from any negative career impact and that confidentiality will be ever present, will make it much more likely that people will come forward before things have worsened.

Equally important though is educating all of your employees whenever policies or procedures have been changed so that every single employee is made aware time and time again that they can come forward for personal problem or they can come forward if they notice negative behavioral changes and subsequent mental health problems in another employee. If it’s out in the open and everyone knows that they will not be fired, let go, or demoted if they come forward, it makes it a lot more likely that individual managers or bosses won’t be able to punish those who come forward as they see fit. 

Focus on preventative measures

Everyone in your workplace is susceptible to stress but if you allow that to build with time it will cause a decline in mental health. so focus on preventative measures. Have regular meetings were you bring in an expert who can talk to your staff about how to build their mental health, how to recognize signs of mental health issues in themselves and in their co-workers. Pay attention to big events in the lives of your employees such as a death in the family, financial problems, relationship problems, family problems, or workplace stress. Any of these can cause mental health issues or aggravate an existing mental health issue to the point where it causes problems with work and productivity. Your employees need to have a good balance with their work-life and their personal life so having regular mental wellness sessions and checking in on employees when they are undergoing such life events can nip a mental health issue in the bud.

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