8 Best Practices to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace
Health and Safety in the workplace is no more only about physical wellness and prevention of physiological illnesses and injuries alone. More than ever before, since the Covid-19 pandemic, mental well-being has also come into sharp focus. A McKinsey survey shows that 89% of employers across 15 states consider a safe and respectful workplace as being essential. In addition to physiological safety, psychological safety too is becoming critical for ensuring employee engagement and productivity.
NIOSH estimates that nearly 1 out of every 5 US adults have a mental illness. According to the World Health Organization, 83% of U.S. workers face work-related stress, and 54% believe their domestic life is affected by work stress.
The US Department of Health and Human Services defines mental health as sum total of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, affecting not only how we think, feel, and act, but also determining how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
The American Psychological Association findings reveal that lower-level employees across all industries were likely to suffer from work-related stress, and more than 30 percent feel unhappy about continuing to work in such an environment. A persistent feeling of stress can lead to mental health challenges, affect productivity and efficiency, and cause burnout.
However, often managers and even peers tiptoe around it because of some inherent prejudices and inhibitions.
Some of the common challenges in identifying and addressing mental health include:
- The stigma attached to mental health, which makes it difficult for people suffering from it to talk about it openly
- It also embarrasses managers to bring it up for lack of sensitization and awareness on how to deal with it
- Considering mental health as a problem becomes a hurdle to being objective about it
- Mental health issues are also considered “personal” and employers may hesitate to get involved
Mental Health Problems: Causes and Impact
Mental health issues could be due to factors associated with the employees themselves, such as:
- low self-esteem
- problems on the personal front due to health, financial, or relationships
- Substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, etc.)
It could also be due to professional reasons such as stress, bullying, an unhappy work environment, policy-related discontent, and so on. WHO categorizes them as:
- Excessive workloads or work pace
- Long or inflexible hours
- Discrimination and exclusion
- Limited support from colleagues
- Unclear job role
- Job insecurity
- Conflicting work/family demands
Addressing Mental Health Issues with Empathy and Care
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that managers find ways to make the workplace less stressful, offer support for coping and resiliency, and communicate this with employees so that they have easy access to it. A proactive approach will help improve employee morale and productivity, with less absenteeism, greater focus on the tasks on hand, improved workplace safety, enhanced physical health, and a better quality of life for the employee, as well as improving the quality of their work.
In addition to providing these supports, McKinsey also strongly recommends creating sustainable work, eliminating toxic behaviors, and boosting inclusivity.
Best Practices to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace
To improve the mental health of the employees and create a healthy and safe workplace, safety leaders and managers must use a process-based approach to create a culture of inclusiveness, care, and understanding. A team that works together not only achieves more but also supports and props each other up, improving the overall psychological well-being of the team.
Some of the best practices in addressing mental health would include:
- Identifying Risks: Assess how the workers feel about coming to work, identify the risk factors that affect their mental health, determine the impact of each of these risks, prioritize, and address them one by one.
- Training: Based on the gaps identified, provide suitable training. It could be skills related to the job to empower the worker to develop confidence in their own capabilities. It could be training in soft skills to be able to communicate better. It could be coping skills or even leadership skills based on the challenges, and the best controls to mitigate them.
- Communication: Be transparent in communicating with the workers and engage continuously with workers at all levels to reinforce the sense of belongingness. Clearly communicate job roles and responsibilities and show respect to the worker as a human being as well as for his/her skills and capabilities.
- Work-Life Balance: Often, employees feel that they can prove their loyalty only by working beyond the required hours. This leads to poor work-life balance and conflicts that lead to mental health issues. Create a culture of improved productivity during work hours and have enough staff based on workload to prevent overloading and burnout.
- First-Aid for Mental Health: Often, businesses have a first-aid kit for any physical illness or injury. Also, provide access to counseling services and insurance to enable the employees to avail professional help when needed. Due to stigma and financial constraints, they may not seek help otherwise.
- Provide Space to Relax: Establish a work culture where workers can also unwind and relax between work. These are perks that will go a long way in building worker loyalty and reducing burnout.
- Be Open and Accessible: Managers and safety leaders must be available for their teams to approach them and talk to them openly in case of any difficulties they are facing. Just a willing ear can be a balm that can soothe taut nerves. During safety inspections, in addition to conducting interviews about physical safety, also talk about the mental well-being of the workers and encourage them to share without fear or hesitation.
- Reporting Behavioral Issues: Empower workers with tools to report unpleasant behavior such as bullying and anger issues. Train leaders and managers to handle these issues before they vitiate the work environment. Also, reinforce positive behaviors through appreciation and rewards.
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