December 16, 2020

How To Better Support Mental Health In The Workplace


The WHO estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. People dealing with mental health problems end up taking more time off, often have anxiety about returning to work, and put people at high risk of unemployment. Commonly, negative work environments lead to physical and mental health problems, causing individuals to turn to substances or alcohol, resulting in absenteeism and lost productivity. 

Workplaces that promote positive mental health and support their employees with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and thus receive the benefits from the associated economic gains. There are many effective opportunities for organizations to promote positive mental health in the workplace, and such actions often also benefit productivity. Studies have shown, for every US $1 put into workplace investment for the most common mental disorders, there is a return of US $4 in improved productivity.

Work-Related Health Risk Factors

There are often many risk factors for mental health that are present in a given working environment. The most common risks usually relate to interactions between the type of work performed, the managerial environment, skills and competencies of employees, and support available for employees. 

For example, a person may have the resources available and skills to complete the tasks required, but they may have unsupportive managerial or organizational practices that put them at risk of negative mental health effects.

5 of the most common work-related risks to mental health:

  1. Relationship Problems With superiors

Routinely, the most common reason for workplace stress is having to deal with a difficult boss. Fortunately, this problem is far easier to solve than other issues. Simply having a sincere conversation often makes a big difference and communicating openly with superiors, early and often, is the best way to resolve issues quickly.

  1. Relationship Problems With Colleagues

Another common reason we see is difficult colleagues or co-workers. Dealing with difficult co-workers carries a high risk to mental health because often their performance can be pitted against oneself. Fostering an environment of team-work instead of rivalry is one of the best actions an organization can take to mitigate this common risk.

  1. Work Family conflict

Especially in 2020, families are struggling to cope with an increasingly complex world with more stresses and risk factors than previously have been felt. We are finding individuals struggling to find a good balance between work and family responsibility. Domestic issues can affect workplace productivity, and having a proper balance between work and home life can help reduce stress.

  1. High Demands On Performance

Unrealistic expectations, especially in this year of pay cuts and corporate reorganizations, puts unhealthy and unreasonable pressures on employees. This can build quickly into a tremendous source of stress and suffering. Increased workload, long work hours, and intense pressure to perform at peak levels for the same or reduced pay, often leaves employees physically and emotionally drained. This compounds to reduce productivity and increase absenteeism, both costing the organization a tremendous amount of time and money.

  1. Job Insecurity

Under the intense economic pressures and transformations this year, even the most organized and stable workplaces are seeing large changes and increased uncertainty. Reorganizations, takeovers, mergers, and layoffs are becoming major stressors for employees, as companies try to survive and job markets suffer. From the CEO to the lowest level employees, many people are feeling extreme pressure and stress. Communicating openly and often with all employees can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and maximizing productivity every day.

Creating a Healthy Workplace

Some common interventions and good practices to protect and promote mental health in the workplace include:

  • Implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices (including identification of distress and mental 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
  • Creating a strategy to support mental health conversations that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation. 
  • Making occupational health services available to support employees, protecting and promoting good mental health.