Recognizing Mental Health as A Core Workplace Safety Pillar
Mental health remains a neglected and stigmatized subject in the workplace, and this oversight jeopardizes the well-being of employees and puts businesses at risk.
- By Andrea Foster-Mack
- Nov 01, 2023
Prioritizing mental health in the workplace is crucial for overall safety and well-being. It encompasses emotional, psychological and social aspects of health, influencing individuals' thoughts, emotions, actions, stress management, relationships and decision-making, all vital components in a workplace setting. Presently, 1 in 5 adults grapple with mental health issues, indicating that the majority of businesses have felt its effects in some capacity. Despite this impact, mental health still often remains a neglected and stigmatized subject in the workplace. This oversight not only jeopardizes the well-being of employees but also poses risks to the business itself.
Mental health may feel like a more personal employee matter, but many variables of it can bleed into the workplace and vice versa. For instance, remote work has been shown to improve employee well-being by reducing commute time and allowing people more time with their families at home. Yet, it has also created heightened feelings of burnout and isolation by blurring the boundaries between people’s work and personal lives. In fact, 23 percent of employees today experience loneliness due to remote work and 77 percent have felt signs of burnout.
Managing mental health in the workplace doesn't follow a universal formula. However, several common mistakes persist in many businesses today. These include perpetuating societal stigmas around mental health, treating mental health solely as the responsibility of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) or Human Resources (HR) and, most notably, relegating "psychological health" to a lower priority compared to physical health and safety. Addressing these challenges is crucial for creating safer workplaces, necessitating a collaborative effort between EHS and HR professionals, and allowing for a deeper appreciation of the significance of psychological health and safety.
Let’s walk through what that looks like.
Bridging the Gap Between Mental Health and Safety
When it comes to workplace safety, physical risks are typically first in mind. Yet, psychological issues can be just as harmful and can sometimes create physical safety risks. Whether an employee is struggling with a personal challenge or even workplace-related stress like long hours or burnout, any mentally taxing factor can diminish concentration, decision-making skills and productivity. This not only harms an employee psychologically but can lead to accidents or injuries, putting the business—and other employees—at risk as well.
Bridging the gap between mental health and safety starts with understanding the nuances of mental health and, most importantly, acknowledging that psychological health and safety are critical to business success.
Some of the ways to proactively act on this include:
- Conducting regular mental health self-assessments. Similar to physical safety precautions, routinely monitoring employees’ well-being is the best way to get an accurate pulse on their mental state.
- Implementing systems and policies that offer helpful resources and guidance. This can be anything from providing cost-effective access to a range of mental health services to implementing stress management practices that help employees cope with stress.
- Cultivating a healthy work environment. This can be done by providing opportunities for employees to recharge mentally, investing in infrastructure that facilitates healthy behavior and self-care and fostering social connectedness through support groups and gatherings.
Enhancing Awareness and Training Programs
Integrating mental health into a company’s human capital strategy is the first step to increasing awareness as well as destigmatizing it as a taboo subject. This approach helps employees feel supported in times of stress but also must be fostered at the leadership level to promote a culture of empathy and understanding company-wide.
In addition to leading by example, more formal ways leaders can support employees include:
- Discussing mental health in regular communications and materials
- Promoting the use of supportive supervision techniques, such as providing constructive performance feedback
- Proactively managing work- and job-related factors that can impact employees’ mental health, such as ensuring employees take their paid time off and regularly checking in with their managers to discuss workload and avoid burnout
Training programs also stimulate awareness and encourage a stigma-free workplace culture. Regularly training employees on the importance of psychological health and safety helps them to recognize signs of potentially poor mental health as well as educate them on the resources at their fingertips to assist in times of need. These can include Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), mental health professionals and therapists, crisis helplines and more. Training also establishes crisis management protocols to effectively respond to any incidents that occur, including violence or suicide. While being proactive is important to preventing poor mental health, having a thorough remediation strategy could save a life.
The bottom line is that managing employees’ whole health is the only way to effectively manage their safety, which includes unseen workplace issues such as mental illness. This cannot be ignored or overlooked and requires regular monitoring and self-assessment to be effective. Every organization needs to recognize mental health as a core safety pillar and that means actively listening, offering empathy and support and not being afraid to speak up or provide resources when needed. Psychological health and safety are important and, when prioritized, can improve both the personal and professional lives of employees.