Addressing Mental Health In The Workplace

Posted by Shahlla Karmali on May 30, 2018 9:32:36 AM

An employee expresses joy at sundown because her mental health concerns are addressed in the workplace.

Mental health in the workplace is sometimes overlooked, though it affects how employees approach their day-to-day tasks. Many factors, including workload, relationships, or home life could influence an employee’s mental health, in turn influencing how they feel about work! Supporting mental health in the workplace isn’t always clear cut… that’s what we’re here for! Since May is Mental Health Month, we’d like to provide you with some guidance on why supporting mental health is crucial to improving wellness in the workplace!

What’s Work Got To Do With It?

It’s important to recognize that while an employee’s mental health condition may not stem from their workplace, work can still be a major contributing factor. Each year, 1 in 5 adults deal with a mental health condition in the United States, and those with stressful jobs may be more prone to mental health conditions. While it’s not possible to eliminate mental health concerns altogether, a well-rounded wellness program could help address them, while also making your employees feel supported in the workplace.

Employers are well-positioned to foster a mentally healthy workplace for employees to thrive in, considering how much time the average adult spends at work in their lifetime! Not only can supporting employees’ mental health in the workplace boost their engagement and productivity, it may also lead to fewer work days. In the U.S., mental illness leads to a loss of 217 million partial or full work days each year! Employer efforts to boost mental health in the workplace could also help recuperate some of the annual loss of 500 billion dollars in lost productivity due to mental illness.

How Does Work Affect Employees’ Mental Health?An employee's workload negatively affects her mental health.

When it comes to mental health concerns, stress is a major risk factor that’s present in every workplace. Job stress is the most predominant contributor to overall stress and is increasing in prevalence. While a little bit of stress isn’t usually cause for concern, prolonged exposure can leave employees susceptible to physical health problems, as well as put them at risk for developing mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

The workplace stress faced by employees is often linked to their workload. Over 40% of employees feel that companies have unrealistic expectations for output. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge this trend - if you find that a certain employee or department is having difficulty, it might be time to check in and ensure they have the right tools and resources to meet their targets. Millennial employees in particular might be the most overwhelmed when it comes to their workload. The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) found that 28% of millennials stated that working through stress was expected in their job and felt more pressure at work than other generations. Be mindful to consider who your workforce is while building out a plan to support their mental health!

Pick up some more tips for reducing stress in the workplace here!

Employees affected by mental health issues may find themselves unable to perform to the best of their abilities and take leaves of absence more frequently than their colleagues. An employee who’s dealing with depression might have trouble focusing and making decisions. By facilitating a culture which supports mental health in the workplace, you can take preventative action against some of these effects!

How Can Employers Help?

The first step towards improvement is educating yourself on the mental health risks that could be present in your organization! It’s important to consider whether your industry is at higher risk for mental health issues, and work to address any concerns specific to your industry. For example, employees in the personal care, food preparation, and service industries were found to have a higher rate of major depressive episodes than other industries. Having this type of knowledge handy can help you mediate accordingly.

You may not know what the rate of occurrence of mental health issues is within your organization, as the stigma surrounding mental health can cause employees to stay silent. Often this is due to the fear of negative repercussions, like losing their job. When you open up the discussion around mental health and provide employees with the resources they need to seek care, you contribute to the de-stigmatization of mental health issues! Over 80% of mental illnesses respond to treatment, so empowering employees to feel comfortable asking for help can make a huge difference!

It’s crucial to be impartial if an employee does come forward with a mental health concern. Take care to ensure your employees' right to privacy of medical conditions, and ensure that they understand that any treatment or diagnosis they disclose to you will be kept private. Employees who request a leave of absence for these reasons should be treated fairly by your organization’s leave management team. This will support your efforts to be consistent when administering leave! Additionally, take care to be mindful of the confidentiality of the information which was brought to you during a leave request.

If your organization is able to, consider providing ways for employees to de-stress at work! This could mean holding weekly potluck lunches, or offering a room for employees to practice yoga or meditation in. It all depends on your organization’s needs and resources! By taking mental health concerns as seriously as physical health and safety, you’ll be able to equip yourself accordingly, and show your commitment to your employees’ mental health in the workplace!

Looking for more information? Check out Mental Health America’s Mental Health Month resources or The Center for Workplace Mental Health's resources for employers.

Topics: Leave Management, HR Tips, Wellness

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