Psychological Health in the Workplace

Over the years, companies have begun to push mental health awareness to the forefront of their company culture. As part of this, mental health issues can be mitigated and managed more efficiently. But most importantly, prioritizing psychological health in the workplace can also help to eradicate the stigma that can stop employees from reaching out for help.

No one is immune to mental illness. In fact, by the time Canadians reach 40-years-old, one in two have or have had a mental illness (1). A shocking 47% percent of working Canadians consider their work to be the most stressful part of daily life. Not only this, but only 23% of Canadian workers would feel comfortable talking to their employer about a psychological issue (2).

These statistics tell us that mental health must be a priority for all employers. Since work can heavily influence the psychological health of an employee, it’s up to the employer to ”take all reasonable actions in creating and maintaining psychologically healthy and safe workplaces” (2).

Here are ways that today’s companies can prioritize psychological health in the workplace.

Mental Health Education

Today, many workplaces are signing up for programs such as Mental Health First Aid. This program teaches employers and their employees how to recognize symptoms of a mental illness (3).

In the past, the mental health of people at work was often considered to be of a personal matter only. But statistics prove that this way of thinking has no place in today’s workforce. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, workers with unresolved depressions are estimated to encounter a 35% drop in productivity (4).

It’s also important to note that the implications of a mental illness are much darker than lost money in hours. For example, in 2009 suicide was ranked as the ninth-leading cause of death of Canada (5).

Mental Health First Aid can help improve the outlook for psychological health in the workplace.  Peer-reviewed studies have shown that its implementation helps employees increase their confidence in approaching someone with a mental health problem, recognize mental illness symptoms in themselves and more (6).

Understanding and Recognizing Stress Levels

From meetings to deadlines, stress is an inevitable factor of a job, whether it’s full or part time. But when it comes to psychological toll that it causes, where do employers draw the line?

The right amount of stress can inspire employees to take on a new challenge in a way that their performance is enhanced. On the other hand, too much stress can wreak havoc on an employee’s mental health (7).

It’s important that the employer can recognize signs of stress in their employees. According to a Deakin University study, a person’s mood or behaviour will change and most likely be noticeable. Other changes may include “such as deteriorating relationships with colleagues, irritability, indecisiveness, absenteeism or reduced performance” (8).

When it becomes clear that stress levels have become too high – within an individual or team setting – work expectations can be shifted to help preserve the workers’ health along with the quality of work. This can become a matter of employees having the confidence to communicate when they require help.

Starting the Conversation

To help lessen the stigma of psychological issues in the workplace, starting a conversation about them can be the best way to see positive change. A Kentucky-based professional services organization recently provided evidence that showed the importance of a leader using its voice to start a conversation about mental health, according to Forbes.

“Through a survey, the organization found that 90% of their employees struggled with mental health or knew someone who did, highlighting an opportunity to address the issue simply by promoting awareness and communication” (9).

“Leading by example, the CEO spoke publicly about how he and his family were affected by poor mental health, while the company amplified the message broadly to its employees through multiple different touch points including a website and infographics” (9).

Integrating mental health awareness into work culture does not need to be expensive. It can simply be a case of making “simple efforts to replace negative stigma [such as] positive affirmation [that] can significantly improve a workplace environment and employee health” (9).

Psychological health is a workplace issue that’s inherently a part of work culture. It is up to the employer to start conversations amongst staff about psychological health. This will not only help increase productivity, but create a better future of psychological health for workplaces that are ready to start the conversation.