Mental Health in the Workplace

Key facts

  • Work is good for mental health but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems.
  • Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
  • Harassment and bullying at work are commonly reported problems, and can have a substantial adverse impact on mental health.
  • There are many effective actions that organizations can take to promote mental health in the workplace; such actions may also benefit productivity.

Creating a healthy workplace

An important element of achieving a healthy workplace is the development of governmental legislation, strategies and polices as highlighted by recent European Union Compass work in this area. A healthy workplace can be described as one where workers and managers actively contribute to the working environment by promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all employees. A recent guide from the World Economic Forum suggests that interventions should take a 3-pronged approach:

  • Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors.
  • Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees.
  • Address mental health problems regardless of cause.

The guide highlights steps organizations can take to create a healthy workplace, including:

  • Awareness of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted to promote better mental health for different employees.
  • Learning from the motivations of organizational leaders and employees who have taken action.
  • Not reinventing wheels by being aware of what other companies who have taken action have done.
  • Understanding the opportunities and needs of individual employees, in helping to develop better policies for workplace mental health.
  • Awareness of sources of support and where people can find help.

Interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace include:

  • implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress, harmful use of psychoactive substances and 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; organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance;
  • programmes for career development of employees; and
  • recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.

Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation. Occupational health services or professionals may support organizations in implementing these interventions where they are available, but even when they are not, a number of changes can be made that may protect and promote mental health. Key to success is involving stakeholders and staff at all levels when providing protection, promotion and support interventions and when monitoring their effectiveness.

 

Available cost-benefit research on strategies to address mental health points towards net benefits. For example, a recent WHO-led study estimated that for every USD $1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of USD $4 in improved health and productivity.

 

Judith Coulson-Geissmann, Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist, MSc Positive Psychology & Coaching, Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach. judith@corporate-wellness.asia

 

Resources: WHO

Workshop Series 2017 UEL Promotion

 

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