What you can do to improve mental health in the workplace

Avetta weighs in on the importance on mental health at work

What you can do to improve mental health in the workplace

September is national suicide prevention month and we, at Avetta, have used this time each year as an opportunity to think about our own and others’ mental health. Suicide is a significant issue among workers. The death by suicide rate is 18 per 100,000 population. It’s even worse among males who work in heavy industries, such as construction, oil and gas, and mining—as high as 54 per 100,000.

General mental health is also suffering. Online mental health provider Ginger reports 99 per cent of the workforce feels under at least some stress because of balancing work, home and the pandemic. It’s time for us to make sure we are more involved in our mental health and others. I encourage each of us to think of one thing we can do to improve mental health in the next 30 days. Here are some ideas.

Our own mental health

First, we need to make sure we are in a good place ourselves. As the airplane safety instructions tell us to put on our oxygen mask first, we need to prioritize self-awareness and self-care. Neil Shah is the founder of International Wellbeing Insights, Chief De-Stressing Officer of The Stress Management Society and an Avetta advisor. He’s presented several times to Avetta’s customers and partners on aspects of mental health. Shah suggests frequently taking a few minutes to be mindful and present to what is happening now. One of the best ways to do that is to take a few minutes to observe our breathing. When we take time to be mindful of our breath, we can listen to the needs of our bodies. Our bodies will tell us what we need, whether food, rest, exercise or something else. It’s almost impossible to listen to our body’s needs with all the “noise” around us. So frequently, take time to be present and take inventory of your needs.

Interactions with co-workers

With extensive social distancing that’s been happening in warehouses and factories, and the increase in remote work, we’ve lost some of the “water cooler” talk. We used to see people in the hallway, in the break room, or before meetings, and we would catch up with them about their lives. Because many of our meetings are held remotely, it causes us to get right to business. Shah encourages the first five minutes of every meeting to not be on the scheduled topic, but rather it should be learning more about your co-workers to find out how they are doing and learn a little more about their lives. This interaction shows you care about each other. Engagement like this is very important.

Another way to be involved with your co-workers is to follow recommendations from the Time to Change mental health campaign encouraging us to ask a second question. That means we need to get beyond the “How are you doing?” question and the “Fine” answer. Ask again. Sometimes asking the same question again gives people a chance to open up and talk about how they really feel. Or if they are not ready to talk at that time, they know you are someone who cares about them and will listen to them later.

Increased responsibility for managers

Managers have multiple responsibilities for mental health at the workplace. Besides taking care of their own mental health, they must be mindful of the health of their entire team. Shah notes that video conferencing and remote work don’t allow us to see people’s body language like we could in person. So, managers need to take extra special care to notice how their workers are doing. That can include more check-ins with employees to ask questions about their stress levels. Monitoring work assignments and deadline pressures is more critical than ever, especially if you don’t see them in person often. You won’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, so make sure you manage workflow, so your employees aren’t stressed out.

Managers should be aware of their leadership style and how that affects mental health.  The wrong environment can add stress to employees unnecessarily. The proper management style improves the mental health of teams. A more authoritarian management approach diminishes employee well-being because the decision-making and ownership rest on the manager alone. Decisions made are forced. A more consultative approach involves team members in the decision-making process, resulting in more input, and more ownership in solutions and outcomes. Sometimes, decisions take longer to achieve. However, you’ll make better decisions that will have widespread buy-in from the group, resulting in better mental health.

Organizations create a foundation for mental health outcomes and recovery

Employers need to commit to mental health. A formal way to do this is by creating a statement of intent to support mental health for employees. Endorsement of this plan must include the CEO or top executive. Sharing this regularly among employees reminds them of the company’s commitment to its employees.

Companies can provide training for direct managers. They are on the frontlines and will most likely notice when someone is experiencing problems. Training can include workplace health and stress assessments, and include strategies for managing and accommodating mental health related absences.

Employers should have fair and consistent policies for returning to work. When someone needs support, resources or time to recover, discuss how the company will help them return to work and the procedures for returning to the job site. Direct or HR managers should stay in touch regularly with employees during an absence to monitor progress and follow the plan for their return.

Mental health benefits are a vital part of helping employees get help when they need it. These benefits can be included with health care coverage. Companies can work with their insurance provider to add essential benefits.

Keep in mind that investing in mental health helps a company—and the economy. The World Health Organization says for every $1 spent caring for people with mental health issues, $4 is returned to the economy.

Use September to reflect on how you can make a difference in your mental health, the health of your workers, and how you can contribute to improved company policies regarding mental health. These suggestions can be just the beginning.

By Richard Parke, SVP of Supplier Services at Avetta, a global leader in supply chain risk management tools. Parke oversees registration, onboarding, compliance, customer support, and supplier retention. He and his team also develop and deliver new product and service offerings designed to create enhanced value. Parke holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Regis University in Denver, Colorado.