Why Workplace Mental Health Matters

Workplace mental health matters especially in high risk industries like construction.

Work can be a dangerous place. Depending on the industry there are many ways in which people can be injured. In his recent Ted Talk, one of my USF DBA students, Vince Hafeli, talked about dangers in the construction industry where each year in the U.S. about 1000 construction workers die from workplace accidents. That construction can be dangerous to health is probably not a surprise. However, he noted that the danger to physical health from the work environment is dwarfed by the dangers of poor mental health, as in his industry more than 5000 workers die each year from suicide. This is why workplace mental health matters, as there is much that organizations can do to address, not only suicide, but other aspects of mental health at work.

Why Workplace Mental Health Matters

Suicide is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to workplace mental health. A large proportion of the working population experiences mental health issues. Sometimes the mental health issues are created or made worse by the job. For example, people who have mental health disorders such as depression might be exposed to conditions at work that make symptoms worse. This includes being bullied or being harshly supervised. Other times people are exposed to trauma that leads to post traumatic stress. For some jobs there are difficult circumstances, such as paramedics having to deal with people who are severely injured or police officers being assaulted. For others conditions are created by management that fails to support employees and create a healthy working environment.

Reducing Mental Health Stigma at Work

As president of a construction company, Hafeli is in a position to take positive steps to improve mental health in his workplace. In his Ted Talk he mentions how he has taken the lead in making mental health a topic of conversation in his company. He has added mental health to company-wide safety meetings, and he is encouraging employees to share their struggles with him and with one another. He is creating an environment where mental health can be openly discussed and individuals who are struggling will seek help from others before they reach the point of suicide. Not only has he taken these steps in his own company, he has been speaking to others in his industry about making workplace mental health a priority in their companies.

Taking Positive Action to Support Workplace Mental Health

Mental health is best considered from the perspective of positive well-being rather than psychological disorder. Good mental health does not just mean that someone is free of a disorder such as bi-polar depression or substance abuse. Rather it means that an individual is living their best lives in terms of being well adjusted to their work and nonwork lives. Someone enjoying good workplace mental health is comfortable among peers, finds meaning in the work, and feels supported by others. There is a lot that organizations can do to promote positive workplace mental health by creating healthy work environments and supportive organizations. These steps include.

  • Creating a health organizational climate. Climate has to do with the polices and practices in the workplace that promotes positive well-being. This means creating an organization in which people are encouraged to treat everyone kindly and with respect so all feel included and valued.
  • Fair treatment. Reward systems and general treatment of employees should be fair, with clear policies about promotion and raises that are followed without favoritism.
  • Managing stress. Work stress is part of the job and cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed. Much of the stress in organizations can be reduced by making sure a person’s skills match tasks, workloads are reasonable, people are given appropriate latitude to manage their work, and people are allowed to take breaks to recover.
  • Supportive environment. Many jobs involve dealing with difficult and even traumatic events. It is vital that support systems be put in place to help employees cope when such events occur. This includes support from peers and supervisors, as well as flexibility in allowing employees to take recovery breaks when needed.

Mental health matters because people are important. Organizations have a responsibility to take care of the health and well-being of their employees to not only keep them safe from harm, but to help them maintain positive mental health that allows them to thrive at work and beyond.

Photo by Yury Kim from Pexels

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4 Replies to “Why Workplace Mental Health Matters”

  1. Paul,

    Thank you for your words.

    What you say is spot on.

    If I were to go back six months, my research topic would have included more on mental health.

    I am learning through my qualitative interviews that the leading organizations are promoting complete well-being for the employee to include both mental and physical health.

    We began this at my organization fifteen months ago, and the dividends include more loyal employees and a larger pool of workers submitting applications for employment. When we ask why they are applying, many times it is because of the caring culture that we are creating.

    Good leaders and organizations do great things while great leaders and organizations are blazing trails for good leaders and organizations.

    Think about it.

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