Mental Health and Workplace Safety

Mental Health in Workplace Safety

Mental Health and Workplace Safety

There’s a growing awareness that the mental health of workers is as critical as physical health and safety. The workplace can contribute to feelings of productivity, satisfaction and well-being or it can be stressful and lead to a rise in mental health problems and/or illness. 35% of all employed Canadians indicate they’re burned out, while only 40% of employees feel they receive support from their employer for coping with workplace stress. Addressing issues of mental health at work is vitally important for all. Companies are beginning to foster healthy workplaces and lifestyles. Psychological risk factors (violence, bullying, harassment, excessive workloads, tight schedules/deadlines, and discrimination) are gradually being recognized and addressed. Employers are being held accountable for causing personal injury if they’re found guilty of neglecting the physical and/or mental health and safety of their workforce.

What is mental health?

Good mental health is a state of being in which a person understands their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to the community. Mental health is determined by a complex interplay between many factors including:

  • family history of illness and/or disease
  • lifestyle behaviours (smoking, exercise, substance use, diet)
  • levels of personal and workplace stress
  • exposure to toxins
  • exposure to trauma
  • genetics
  • personal circumstances and/or personal history
  • access to supports (timely healthcare, social supports)
  • learned coping skills

What are the symptoms of mental distress?

The symptoms of mental distress are many and varied but fall into three main categories:

  • Psychological manifestations include anxiety, depression, pessimism, irritability, discouragement, a feeling of overwhelm, a lack of interest and/or an inability to concentrate or make decisions. 
  • Behavioural symptoms include aggressive behaviour, lowered performance quality/quantity, increased absenteeism, disinterest, frustration, impatience, irritability, mood swings, interpersonal conflicts, social isolation and overuse of sick days. 
  • Physical indications include headaches, insomnia, heart palpitations, muscular tension, cramping, fatigue, stomach issues and skin conditions. 

Why should employers be concerned about mental health?

Positively managing mental health promotes employee engagement, boosts staff morale, increases workers’ loyalty, supports innovation, encourages productivity and increases profits. People perform better when they feel able to put everything into their job and they’re confident, motivated and focused on doing their work. It’s beneficial for all levels of the workplace (board of directors, management, finance, human resources, safety committee, employees, etc.) to be involved in supporting good mental health. 

What issues in the workplace affect employee mental health?

There are a number of psychosocial risk factors that have an impact on the mental health of employees. Companies need to consider all of these in their efforts to create a mentally healthy workplace. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • stigma and discrimination (negative attitudes, beliefs, or behaviours about or toward an individual or group of people because of a characteristic they share)
  • stress (event or situation that an individual perceives as a threat)
  • demand/control and effort/reward relationships (when the demand and/or control an employee has at work changes, when workers feel unfairly rewarded for their efforts)
  • presenteeism (when employees come to work not mentally present due to an illness, extreme family/life pressures, or stress)
  • job burnout (a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations)
  • harassment, violence, bullying and mobbing (any act in which a person is abused verbally, threatened, intimidated or assaulted physically)
  • problematic substance use (individual has lost control over their use and/or continues to use despite experiencing negative consequences)

What can workplaces do to support mental health?

A safe and healthy workplace promotes workers’ mental well-being and does not harm employee mental health in negligent, reckless or intentional ways. The following are concrete ways an organization can promote positive mental health in the workplace. 

  • Create and implement a comprehensive workplace health and safety program (strategies, activities, initiatives, policies)
  • Encourage active employee participation and decision making
  • Clearly define employees’ duties and responsibilities
  • Promote work-life balance
  • Encourage respectful and non-derogatory behaviours
  • Manage workloads
  • Allow continuous learning
  • Have conflict resolution practices in place
  • Recognize employees’ contributions effectively
  • Provide employee assistance programs 
  • Provide a comprehensive employee benefits package that includes coverage for counselling/therapy, care support, and trauma support
  • Offer virtual healthcare services for convenient, all-day support 
  • Continuously check in with employees about resources they may need
  • Focus on early intervention/prevention

A mentally healthy workplace is a respectful and productive environment. To create this atmosphere, all levels of an organization need to commit to creating and maintaining mental health awareness programs. Employers must promote a safety culture in which both physical and mental health are understood and supported.  

Need help starting and/or improving a mental health support program? Looking for professional safety consultants that are passionate and knowledgeable? Want a safety consultant that responds in a timely manner and provides teaching at every opportunity? Seeking customer service that exceeds your expectations? Get in touch with 1st Quality Safety Consulting. We provide safety programs, monthly consulting packages, digital safety management software and online and in-person courses.