18 ways to improve workplace mental health

One-third of the societal cost of mental illnesses are related to work disruptions

18 ways to improve workplace mental health
Workplace interventions are increasingly addressing common mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Katy Kamkar

Mental illnesses have a major impact on our economy. The estimated annual health-care costs are around $51 billion and about 35 per cent of the societal cost of mental illnesses are related to work disruptions. This is driven in part by the fact that mental health problems are associated with reduced productivity at work, increased absenteeism, sick leave, short-term and long-term disability. The costs associated with mental health disabilities are also higher than those of physical related disabilities and more likely to re-occur.

Contributing factors to mental health disabilities include difficulties with reintegration to work after a period of mental health disability; lack of policies or disability leave plan; difficulties associated with work accommodations; stigma; burnout; limited prevention intervention plans at both individual and organizational levels; limited organizational resources or capacity; limited proactive strategies or access to evidence-based treatment; limited access to resources with expertise; and not recognizing that treatment or help is needed. Chronic stress and occupational burnout result in reduced motivation and care for work. For others, it can cause feelings of helplessness or powerlessness, resulting in emotional disengagement.

Workplace interventions are increasingly addressing common mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder as part of mental health education, prevention, early identification and interventions. However, our workplace interventions continue to be primarily reactive rather than preventative.

One of the many pathways to build and optimize prevention involve interventions at both individual and organizational levels, such as creating a positive organizational culture as well as building workplace mental health promotion. This can be achieved by reducing workplace risk factors and identifying and building individual as well organizational strengths and protective factors.

Building workplace strengths and protective factors for mental health

Healthy interpersonal, communication skills and emotional intelligence need to be part of training and education for leaders — especially in for all professionals working in human services.

Healthy and supportive relationships and work environments that focus on trust, respect, support, gratitude and care should be promoted in the workplace as well as supportive reintegration into the work environment after a leave of absence.

Stress management programs should also be offered as well integration of mental health and physical health services that aim for work-life balance.

Employers should encourage of health care professionals when someone is experiencing psychological distress and provide a work environment that’s supportive of seeking help and counselling.

Workers’ roles and responsibilities should be well-defined and consistent with one’s interest and training. There should also be opportunities for growth and development.

Sufficient resources should be available to cope with the demands of the job, particularly during times of organizational changes and staff cutbacks that might result in more job demands and fewer resources.

Regular and constructive feedback and recognition for good performance should be provided.

Additionally, flexible work conditions should be available whenever possible and appropriate, such as reasonable work hours and flexibility in determining schedule for shift work to help reduce burnout and assist with work-life balance.

Building worker strength and protective factors for mental health

Employees should work on their perceived self-efficacy and competence, so they feel confident in self and in one’s skills to perform work duties.

They can also work on their emotional regulation skills and interpersonal strengths. This can be done through learning healthy and proactive skills and strategies, including mindfulness, self-compassion and psychological flexibility.

It’s important for workers to have work-life balance and find ways of reducing work to home interference.

They can also thrive through compassion satisfaction: Contentment from being able to do one’s work well and helping others.

Employees must consider their professional worth — the perception that one’s work is valued and effective.

It’s also important that they feel they are gaining knowledge at work and are able to take part in communications and decision-making.

Workers must be in a role where they can use a range of skills and abilities to perform duties and responsibilities.

If faced with difficult situations, employees should practice active coping rather than avoidance coping.

They also need to make their physical health a priority.

Lastly, work must be perceived by employees as meaningful to allow a sense of empowerment and engagement at work.