Mental Health in the Workplace Concerns

Mental Health in the Workplace Concerns

What Affects Mental Health in the Workplace?

Many risk factors for mental health may be present in the working environment. Most risks relate to interactions between type of work, the organizational and managerial environment, the skills and competencies of employees, and the support available for employees to carry out their work. For example, a person may have the skills to complete tasks, but they may have too few resources to do what is required, or there may be unsupportive managerial or organizational practices. Some considerations:

  • Work is good for mental health, but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems.
  • Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
  • Harassment and bullying at work are commonly reported problems and can substantially affect mental health.
  • There are many effective actions that organizations can take to promote mental health in the workplace; such actions may also benefit productivity.
  • For every $1 put into scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.

Work-Related Risk Factors for Health

Risks to mental health include:

  • Inadequate health and safety policies;
  • Poor communication and management practices;
  • Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;
  • Low levels of support for employees;
  • Inflexible working hours; and
  • Unclear tasks or organizational objectives.

Risks may also be related to job content, such as unsuitable tasks for the person’s competencies or a high and unrelenting workload. Some jobs may carry a higher personal risk than others (e.g. first responders and humanitarian workers), which can have an impact on mental health and cause symptoms of mental disorders, or lead to harmful use of alcohol or psychoactive drugs. The risk may be increased in situations where there is a lack of team cohesion or social support.

Bullying and psychological harassment (also known as “mobbing”) are commonly reported causes of work-related stress by workers and present risks to the health of workers. They are associated with both psychological and physical problems. These health consequences can have costs for employers in terms of reduced productivity and increased staff turnover. They can also have a negative impact on family and social interactions.

What Can Workplaces Do

Workplaces can play an essential part in maintaining positive mental health. They can give people the opportunity to feel productive and be a strong contributor to employee wellbeing. Yet it can also be a stressful environment that contributes to the rise of mental health problems and illnesses. No workplace is immune from these risks and we cannot afford to limit our definition of occupational health and safety to only the physical.

With most adults spending more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else, addressing issues of mental health at work is vitally important for all people in Canada. Seventy percent of Canadian employees are concerned about the psychological health and safety of their workplace, and 14 percent don’t think theirs is healthy or safe at all. Such workplaces can take a detrimental personal toll as well as contribute to staggering economic costs.

About 30 percent of short- and long-term disability claims in Canada are attributed to mental health problems and illnesses. The total cost of mental health problems to the Canadian economy exceeds $50 billion annually. In 2011, mental health problems and illnesses among working adults in Canada cost employers more than $6 billion in lost productivity from absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover.

National Standard for Workplace Mental Health

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) – the first of its kind in the world, is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources intended to guide organizations in promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work. Launched in January 2013, it has garnered uptake from coast to coast to coast, internationally and across organizations of all sectors and sizes. The Standard provides a comprehensive framework to help organizations of all types guide their current and future efforts in a way that provides the best return on investment.

Adopting the Standard can help organizations with:

  • Productivity
  • Financial Performance
  • Risk Management
  • Organizational Recruitment
  • Employee Retention

The Standard is a document that outlines a systematic approach to developing and sustaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. It focuses on mental illness prevention and mental health promotion. The Standard is intended for everyone, whether they live with a mental illness or not. It is also a voluntary standard. It is not a legal framework or regulation.

The Standard includes information on:

  • The identification of psychological hazards in the workplace.
  • The assessment and control of the risks in the workplace associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated (e.g., stressors due to organizational change or reasonable job demands).
  • The implementation of practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace.
  • The growth of a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace.
  • The implementation of systems of measurement and review to ensure the sustainability of the overall approach.

The Standard provides information to help organizations implement key components, including scenarios for organizations of all sizes, an audit tool, and other resources and references.

Creating a Healthy Workplace

So how do you create a healthy workplace? A healthy workplace can be described as one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety, and well-being of all employees. An academic report from 2014 suggests that interventions should take a 3-pronged approach:

  • Protect mental health by reducing work-related risk factors.
  • Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees.
  • Address mental health problems regardless of cause.

Organizations can take the following steps to create a healthy workplace, including:

  • Awareness of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted to promote better mental health for different employees.
  • Learning from the motivations of organizational leaders and employees who act.
  • Not reinventing wheels by being aware of other companies who act.
  • Understanding the opportunities and needs of individual employees, in helping to develop better policies for workplace mental health.
  • Awareness of sources of support and where people can find help.

Interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace include:

  • Implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress, harmful use of psychoactive substances and illness and providing resources to manage them.
  • Informing staff that support is available.
  • Involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance.
  • Programs for the career development of employees.
  • Recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.

Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support, and rehabilitation. Occupational health services or professionals may support organizations in implementing these interventions where they are available, but even when they are not, several changes can be made that may protect and promote mental health.

The key to success is involving stakeholders and staff at all levels when providing protection, promotion, and support interventions and when monitoring their effectiveness.

Supporting People with Mental Disorders at Work

Organizations have a responsibility to support individuals with mental disorders in either continuing or returning to work. Research shows that unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment, can have a detrimental impact on mental health. Many of the initiatives outlined above may help individuals with mental disorders. Flexible hours, job redesign, addressing negative workplace dynamics, and supportive and confidential communication with management can help people with mental disorders continue to or return to work. Access to evidence-based treatments has been shown to be beneficial for depression and other mental disorders. Because of the stigma associated with mental disorders, employers need to ensure that individuals feel supported and able to ask for support in continuing with or returning to work and are provided with the necessary resources to do their job.

An important requirement to keep in mind is that every person with a disability has the right to work, should be treated equally and not be discriminated against, and should be provided with support in the workplace.

10 Healthy Habits for Mental Fitness

To finish off, the following is a list of suggestions, ideas, and tasks that you should consider and do to keep yourself from becoming too stressed out. Using these tools will assist you with keeping your stress levels down.

  1. Schedule “Me-Time” Daily. This could be as simple as a quick 10–15-minute break, taking a walk around the office or outside, or taking a lunch break.
  2. Reward Yourself. Set goals for yourself regarding your tasks and when you achieve said goals, treat yourself.
  3. Play to your strengths.
  4. Ask for and OFFER Help to your co-workers. Working as a team ensures stress levels stay down and the work gets done.
  5. De-Stress Your Diet. Stick with proper eating habits and eat healthy foods as much as possible. Foregoing meals and not eating on a regular schedule causes unneeded stress to your body.
  6. Press “Pause” occasionally – downtime is a good thing. Take some time for yourself, once you leave the office, leave the office at the office. Some are tasked with being available outside of the office and find some time every day to put the phone away.
  7. Get Regular Physical Activity. Nobody is going to tell you to go to the gym every day. Go for a walk after your day is done, stretch and get the blood flowing. Activity helps lower stress levels, helps your heart and lets you forget the day.
  8. Set Goals and Stay on Target with a Journal. Set goals for yourself, both in the office and in your personal life, set dates to complete them and track your progress. One of the best feelings is hitting a goal that you have set.
  9. Practice relaxation techniques and get enough sleep. Regardless of whether you are a young buck who is out partying and having a good time or settled into family life with kids you need to get the proper amount of sleep. 8 hours of sleep allows the body to reset and keep stress levels maintained.
  10. CHOOSE a positive attitude. All anyone can do is their best and when you try to do your best, good things always happen. We all have varying skill levels, but attitude and effort always get you where you need to go. Choose to treat everyone and yourself with respect and kindness and happiness will follow.
    Excerpts were taken from the Canadian Mental Health Commission and the WHO International websites. CCOHS was also referenced at different points in this newsletter.
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