Discussing mental health has become less taboo in modern culture than it used to be before, and that openness is now also crossing over into the workplace. However, many organizations still seem to be falling behind on this trend. From unrealistic, demanding deadlines to heavy workloads and long hours to even shifting performance priorities, there’s often never a shortage of stress at work.
With the average person spending more than 90,000 hours in their lifetime at a job, letting that stress go unchecked may lead to serious impacts on working professionals’ mental well-being. Learn how enhancing workplace wellness programs can go beyond physical health and how some simple steps can better address employees’ mental health.
Caring about co-workers
Mental health in the workplace is just as important as physical health in the workplace. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults in the US lives with a mental illness. If you don’t struggle yourself, chances are that you know someone who does, says Dr. Brad Berger, a psychiatrist at Rogers Behavioral Health in the Miami location.
“These statistics demonstrate that this is a very real and widespread issue that likely comes up in the workplace more often than one may think, and so this is clearly something that employers need to be aware of and must address,” Berger says. “In terms of mental illness, it is important that employers are aware of the resources available in the area or create programs to provide support for individuals who experience this.”
When it comes to work performance, people struggling with a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder may have a higher rate of absenteeism, says Tom Delegatto, therapist and executive director of Recovery Works, a treatment center in Merrillville, Ind.
“They may have been high performers but are now poor performers, may have more on the job injuries, may be more prone to accidents, or may be more prone to workplace violence,” he says. “These employees may also impact an employer’s finances due to the increased cost of termination, recruiting and hiring.”
“Addressing and recognizing mental health in the workplace can lead to a reduction in stigma and recognition that mental health has as high of a value for the company as physical health does,” Delegatto adds.
Promoting better mental health
Programs at work that embrace self-care can help employees feel valued and appreciated, increase cohesiveness, and counter stigma to increase morale, thus increasing the likelihood that individuals will function at their best, according to Berger.
“Work-life balance is a really important part of mental health in the workplace,” he adds.
To get started on improving your own mental well-being or to help your co-workers start theirs, Krystyna de Jacq, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and an assistant professor at Pace University in New York City, offers some tips. She says you can start by getting involved in walking groups at lunch, taking five-minute chair yoga breaks together, or offering meditation breaks for employees.
“It’s good to have an organizational psychologist involved. Organizational psychologists are trained to improve work conditions and focus on general well-being at the employment site,” she says. “Any type of support is better than no support.”
Employers can also keep productivity and expectations reasonable and avoid piling on more and more work that can contribute to more stress, de Jacq says.
“They also can let the employees go home on time. When employees go home on time, they have more time with their loved ones and friends, which promotes better mental health, usually,” she says. “When something goes wrong, avoid the blaming game because it is non-productive and adds to mental health issues. Mistakes are signals that something has to be fixed, not the sign that an employee is bad, wrong, lazy, etc. Usually something needs fixing in the company. Think about growth, not punishment.”