Employers Can Help Improve Mental Health
Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition, as 1 in 5 U.S. adults will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. However, everyone is affected or impacted by mental illness through friends, family, and in the workplace.
An analysis conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that by 2030, the world will have lost 12 billion workdays due to depression and anxiety disorders. This adds up to an incredible 50 million years of work lost and puts the annual financial impact to the global economy at a staggering $925 billion.
Work-related risk factors for health
Many risk factors for mental health can be present in the workplace. According to WHO, most risks relate to interactions between type of work, the organizational and managerial environment, the skills and competencies of employees, and the support available for employees to help them carry out their work. For example, a person may have the skills to complete tasks, but they may have too few resources to do what is required, or there may be unsupportive managerial or organizational practices.
Risks to mental health include:
- Inadequate health and safety policies
- Poor communication and management practices
- Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work
- Low levels of support for employees
- Inflexible working hours
- Unclear tasks or organizational objectives
Risks can also be related to the actual job itself, such as requiring performance of unsuitable tasks for the person’s skillset or an unmanageable workload. Some jobs may carry a higher personal risk than others (e.g., first responders and humanitarian workers), which can have an impact on mental health or lead to harmful use of alcohol or drugs. Risk can also be amplified in situations where there is a lack of team support.
Bullying and harassment are also causes of work-related stress that present risks to the health of employees. These actions are associated with both psychological and physical problems and can have costs for employers in terms of reduced productivity and increased staff turnover. They can also have a negative impact on the employee’s personal life.
How can employers help?
A recent guide from the World Economic Forum suggests that interventions should take a three-pronged approach:
- Protect mental health by reducing work-related risk factors
- Promote good mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees
- Address mental health problems regardless of cause
The guide also 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 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 drugs and alcohol and providing resources to manage them
- Communicating to employees 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
- Offering programs for career development
- Recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees
 National Institutes of Mental Health