More and more employers are recognizing the need to address mental health in the workplace. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the workplace is one of the key environments that impacts mental health. As winter sets in, it’s even more important that mental health is a workplace priority -- for reasons we will uncover a little bit later.
How employers can address mental health in the workplace
The WHO explains that a comprehensive mental health policy not only looks at the individuals within an organization, but the mental health of the organization as a whole. Employers need to take a step back and analyze if there are causes of workplace stress, which can lead to the formation or exasperation of mental health issues. Some potential sources of work-related stress include:
- Too large of a workload and/or unrealistic deadlines
- Lack of clear instruction
- Lack of decision making power or guidance
- Job insecurity
- Isolated working conditions
- Inadequate childcare arrangements
- Sexual harassment or discrimination
It’s challenging from a management perspective to understand if any of your employees are going through any of these. Consider distributing anonymous surveys that ask a combination of yes/no and open ended questions to get an accurate gauge of how employees feel about their work conditions.
From there, you can make a correlation between current working conditions and mental health and use that data to design an effective health and wellness program. While the details of the program will vary dependent upon organization specifics, there are a few things that most organizations can implement to address job stressors:
- Encourage employees to not answer work-related emails or phone calls outside of office hours.
- Have employees track the number of hours worked per day or week and allocate additional resources to those going over hours.
- Offer health education classes that include mental health signs, symptoms, and available resources. If possible, offer onsite resources like counseling to reduce time absenteeism.
- Consider a flexible work schedule or work from home days and encourage employees to use their PTO or vacation days.
Addressing these items is key to creating a workplace of low absenteeism, high productivity, and increased employee engagement.
Mental health and the winter months.
While it’s important to acknowledge and mitigate these issues all year long, employers should pay special attention to them during the winter.
Mental health issues tend to surface or intensify during winter months. This is commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which tends to start in the later fall and continue through the winter months, usually dissipating in the spring. SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans, with an additional 10-20% experiencing a mild version.
Even if someone is not experiencing the full depression brought on by SAD, the change in sunlight and weather patterns can cause even a person without depression to have less energy and a lower mood. This makes all employees more prone to feeling the impact of workplace stress, increasing the likelihood of poor mental health.
A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 88% of those who suffer from SAD experience work difficulties. Additionally, 82% experience daytime drowsiness, 69% experience later waking times, and 94% experience interpersonal difficulties. Any combination of these symptoms can cause productivity to drop. Conversely, Good.co reports that happy employees have a 31% higher productivity rate.
It’s important for employers to be proactive about mental health changes. By making it a priority all year long, there will be less of a chance of employees experiencing issues when the winter comes around.
Making mental health a priority will lead to increased presence, well-being, and production. It will also lead to overall healthier employees who appreciate the value that you are placing on their wellbeing. So as temperatures drop this year, be sure that efforts to address mental health rise.