The Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace

The Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace

Career Advice

Mental health determines how we think, feel, interact, and relate to the world around us. It is a place of well-being from which we navigate the stresses of life. This means that mental health is a determinant of effective and efficient functionality. It also means that an employee’s mental health has an impact on those around them and a company’s bottom line. Globally it is estimated that the loss of productivity due to mental health challenges is US$ 1 trillion per annum. Thus, addressing mental health in the workplace is important.

What is Mental Health in the Workplace?

Mental well-being at the workplace refers to a worker’s emotional, psychological, and social health within their work environment. This means that mental health is a determinant of how meaningful a contribution an employee can make to their professional and personal lives.

What Affects Mental Health in the Workplace?

High-stress levels positively correlate with higher mental health illnesses. Increasingly research shows that stressors and poor mental health at work can contribute to employee illness. The direct cost to a company of mental health issues is seen through increased absenteeism, employee burn-out, higher error rates and greater staff turnover. All of which harm productivity and thereby company profit. Thus, the mental health of staff can also affect a company’s long-term viability and sustainability.

6 Work-Related Stressors

  1. Relationship difficulties with superiors.
  2. Bureaucratic restrictions.
  3. Problematic relationships with colleagues.
  4. Performance pressure.
  5. Poor job prospects.
  6. Imbalance between work and personal life.

Thus, workplace stressors are linked to relationships, work content and/or schedules as well as career development opportunities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) mental health in the workplace memorandum notes that decent work is good for mental health. Meaning that a work environment plays an integral part in determining mental health status. Specifically, discrimination, job insecurity, excessive workloads and low job control create poor work environments that are impactful on a worker’s mental well-being. As such, risks to mental health within a work environment relate to inherent workplace characteristics. These are often moulded by a company’s culture.

How to Improve Mental Health at Work

There are numerous actions that companies can take to prevent and decrease mental health risks within their work environment. As well as promote mental health awareness and provide support for those with mental health conditions.

An official mental well-being policy is one of the most effective ways to improve mental health in the workplace. This policy should iterate the importance of an employee to the company and what its specific objectives are. A mental well-being policy should provide an overview of how workplace stress will be measured and the frequency thereof. It should also state what support services and employee mental health programs will target. For example, prevention, identification, and management of workplace anxiety.

How to Protect and Promote Mental Health at Work

Each company is unique in its work environment. This means that once the basics of a mental well-being policy is established, how it moves forward is contingent on a company’s dynamics. It also means that ensuring mental health is a continuous process and not a once-off intervention.

Three Ways to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

1. Knowledge is Power

Creating a work environment that both protects and promotes mental well-being starts with improving knowledge and thereby decreasing stigmas.

Managers need to be trained in understanding how job stressors impact mental health and work productivity. They also need to be taught how to recognise and appropriately respond when workers experience emotional distress.

Simultaneously, workers need to be exposed to mental health literacy and thereby increase their awareness of mental well-being. This will better enable them to identify if they need assistance and when to seek timely support.

“The life challenges that many of those around us suffer from, and the impact of these circumstances on the sufferers and those immediately connected to them can be devastatingly destructive. And sometimes all that a person needs to know, or feel, is that someone cares and perhaps some encouragement like, “we can get through this”. Allan Pike, The Key Recruitment Group

2. Build Resilience

Stress is a state of worry or mental tension which is rooted in difficult circumstances. One of the biggest drivers of mental illness is stress, particularly exposure to prolonged or protracted stress. All jobs have some form of pressure. This type of stress can be a positive driver as it prompts people to tackle challenges and meet deadlines. For most, stress decreases and dissipates once a situation improves or is dealt with. However, for others, it immobilises them.

People differ in how they respond to and manage their stress levels. A proactive way to build company resilience to work stress is to equip people with coping mechanisms and tools. This can be done by promoting healthy ways to cope with stress. For example, creating a company leadership culture that promotes openness and sharing of personal struggles coupled with stress management activities such as exercise. Companies can also run regular stress management workshops. These are courses that assist workers in identifying symptoms and sources of stress and then equip them with healthy coping mechanisms.

3. Improve Communication

Miscommunication leads to misunderstandings which can create unnecessary conflict as well as feelings of hurt, anger or frustration. Ultimately, it results in escalated stress levels and over time mental anguish and health issues. Problematic communication can occur between colleagues or between management and workers. Thus, improved communication across a company has been shown to decrease workplace stress. Consequently, upskilling both managers’ and workers’ communication skills can have a positive impact on productivity while fostering a healthier work environment.

Communication is an active skill that has five basic forms. It can be verbal, non-verbal (body language), written or visual and includes listening skills. It is possible to improve someone’s communication skills through courses and workshops. Companies can further promote good communication by having official communication policies in place. These are frameworks that outline communication objectives, how communication takes place and codes of conduct to govern communication formats, language, and professional etiquette.