Mental Health and the Workplace

The average professional spends 90,000 hours at work within their lifetime. With such a substantial portion of lives spent at work, employers need to be cognizant of how the workplace can trigger mental health issues, and in response, focus on creating an environment that fosters strong mental health amongst their workforce.

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Mental health and our role in the workplace often co-exist. To many, their professional lives foster a social network and ensue a sense of purpose and accomplishment. However, being constantly connected through technology can make those 40-hour work weeks feel more like 24/7 — leaving little time to focus on self-health and self-help. Currently, 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness each year.

As an employer, the benefits of promoting mental health awareness is twofold. Employees reap the benefits and your business profits do as well. When we think of lost time at work many relate it to physical injury or illness, but the reality is that 30% of disability claims are related to mental health problems. In Canada, the total cost of mental health problems and illnesses is $50 billion per year. Employees affected by mental health issues experience higher absence rates and decreased productivity, leaving companies with an increased turnover rate — making it hard to meet deadlines and achieve corporate goals.

Creating a foundation to support good mental health does not have to strain your business’ resources. It’s as simple as implementing specific strategies.

Identify and educate

Mental health illnesses are not always easily identifiable and can often be misinterpreted by individuals and companies.  An employee who frequently misses work, has decreased work performance and shows changes in their behaviour can often be tell-tale signs of a mental health illness.  In these cases, educating leaders on how to engage in conversations around mental health can help employees feel that they’re in a safe environment, open up about their issues and seek the appropriate support.

Resources and support

As an employer there are many ways to support an individual who may be facing a mental health illness.  To start, make educational tools on mental health issues available.  This could range from education materials to online self-assessments that are geared at helping individuals detect the signs and promote early intervention.  As well, providing benefit plans and compensation structure support such as therapy coverage and mental health days can provide employees with the resources to seek the help they need.

Action plans

Develop and implement policies and procedures to allow employees to feel safe to come forward and to breakdown any stigmas associated with psychological issues.  If a colleague exhibits signs of stress and anxiety, have an action plan in place to assist. Communicate without judgement, consider emotional triggers while being supportive and clear. Also, providing training for colleagues can help to erase the stigma around mental illnesses in your workplace.

Despite our best efforts in fostering a supportive work environment, mental health issues are not always preventable. A wide range of factors from biological to psychological to environmental can contribute to the development of mental illnesses. With so much time spent at work, employers need to focus on the signs and have resources readily available in order to help.

With a little effort, your workplace can have a large impact in maintaining the positive mental health of your workforce.

If you or anyone you know is in need, it’s important to seek the appropriate help. For information on the resources available throughout Canada visit mental health resources.

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