How to improve mental health in the workplace
Thankfully, we’re moving away from the notion that working ourselves to the bone is the key to maximum productivity, but there’s still a long way to go.
Mental health can often fall by the wayside compared to physical health when it comes to the workplace but, in reality, they should be treated with the same duty of care.
Even from the cynical ‘bottom line’ perspective, a healthy, happy workforce is a productive and engaged workforce. If you look after your employees’ mental health, you will reap the benefits.
Dr Helena Lass is a psychiatrist specialising in mental wellness, and the founder of Wellness Orbit. She said the approach to mental wellness needs to be very systematic and proactive, but the proactive part is massively lacking.
“Even the new Mental Health at Work initiative in the UK is mostly focused on reactive measures. So far, mental health problems only become highlighted when mental illnesses emerge, and [this] is the case the world over,” she said.
Lass also said that poor employee mental health is costing companies massive amounts of money. “The Healthy Ireland framework reported that the economic cost of mental health problems in Ireland is €11bn per year, much of which is related to loss of productivity.”
She cited similar problems across Europe, including a study by Matrix Insight, which found that workplace costs related to depression in Europe are an incredible €617bn per year.
“We can also put it more simply: every fourth person in the world comes in contact with some kind of a mental health problem.”
So, what are employers doing to help their employees? While plenty offer perks such as flexible working options, healthy food and gym memberships, none of these things are actually tackling mental health-related problems.
“By giving mental wellness its rightful place in the corporate wellbeing culture, we can begin to start normalising the situation,” said Lass. “Mental wellness is always based on personal initiative and, at the moment, it is up to employers to provide access to such intrapersonal education, as only then employees can learn to take control over their own actions, mental health and work results.”
What exactly needs to be done?
It’s often easy to broadly speak about what employers should do by simply saying ‘they need to make things better for employees’ and leave it at that. However, that doesn’t actually provide practical advice for employers who want to make a difference.
Lass said that when employers are thinking about introducing a training programme, mental health elements should be made accessible. “As we lack psychiatrists and other mental wellness experts, you should know that mental wellness can now be accessed in a fully digital mental wellness gym.”
Knowing how to spot signs of mental health problems is also an important element for employers. Lass said it’s a good idea to have basic information about stress, burnout, depression and anxiety, all of which will work against your employees’ wellness.
“If your employees use their heads to work, then the mental tool is their main asset and driver of productivity. Side by side with emotion management, this is the second major component of mental wellness,” she said. “It spans over many areas, such as the ability to express ideas clearly, ability to calm the mind, information processing, use of memory, managing your actions in time, ability to plan and visualise.”
Lass also said that learning to relax is the key to mental wellness. “Learning the proper relaxation techniques can secure better quality sleep and boost the immune system to facilitate peak performance.” For employers, this message should be communicated effectively to their team and it should be practised by leaders, too – lead by example.
One of the most important things to promote good mental health is the need to develop strong intrapersonal skills and the ability to then bring these skills to your employees. “Intrapersonal skills are based on knowledge and understanding about what goes on inside of us,” said Lass. “Knowledge of how to deal with inner problems should be actively encouraged and provided in a proactive and pre-emptive manner. After all, what is the use of an employee with a healthy body and unproductive mind?”
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