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Why mental health is important in the workplace

Mental health is especially important in the workplace these days. Because after the year (and a half!) we’ve just experienced, probably everybody’s mental health has taken a bashing!

How has mental health in the workplace been affected by the pandemic?

Some people have been through loss and grief. Others have either been ill themselves or witnessed the effects on someone else. The world of work has invaded people’s homes – which were more or, perhaps, less well-equipped to deal with it. So the boundary between work and home life has become blurred, and work-life balance has suffered.

Of course, some people seem to have sailed through all this upheaval with no adverse effects. They can’t wait to get back to ‘normal’. But as a result of the pandemic,  up to 10 million people in England will need mental health support. According to the Centre for Mental Health, this will be for either a new or pre-existing issue. But that equates to 20% of the population – adults and children. 

On returning to work, it’s unrealistic to expect those people to keep their problems out of the workplace. 

What is ‘mental health in the workplace’?

First of all, everybody has mental health in the same way that they have physical health. And just as we can all become physically unwell, we can also become mentally unwell. But these types of illness are not regarded in the same way – and that’s the nub of the problem: stigma!

In the past, people who became mentally unwell were regarded with suspicion. They were often disadvantaged and discriminated against at work. This is why so many people chose to suffer in silence and never admit that they were struggling.

Fortunately, thanks to the Equality Act (2010), a mental health issue can now be regarded as a disability. So it is a ‘protected characteristic’ (like age, race or sex etc.), and people are protected by law from discrimination. But that still doesn’t make it easy for people to talk about their mental health – especially not at work.

What are the statistics on mental health issues in the workplace?

You might be surprised – mental ill health is not unusual among working people.

Business in the Community reported that in 2019, 41% of employees had experienced a mental health problem either caused or made worse by work. In 2020, this had increased to 69%. Excessive demands were the cause for 57% of those working at home, while added pressure was the cause for 46% of those in the workplace. 

Further, the 2020 workplace stress survey by Perkbox found 79% commonly experience work-related stress. They found that office politics and poor communication were the most common cause of work-related stress.

What kinds of mental health problems can people have in the workplace?

The most common mental health problems that employees can experience in the workplace are stress, depression and anxiety. But as we’ve seen above, stress is the main problem because it affects so many people.

Why is stress an important factor in mental health in the workplace?

Stress is a part of everyday life, and we can’t avoid it completely. Some stress can sometimes be a good thing – as long as it is not constant and overwhelming. Of course, stress affects people differently because what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect how much stress an employee can tolerate.

But one thing is for sure. When stress is unrelenting and prolonged, it damages employees’ mental health. They are unable to function effectively in any aspect of their lives, but especially at work.  There is a clear link between employee mental health, productivity and company profitability.

What causes stress in the workplace?

Six main factors can create work-related stress – if they are not managed properly.

  1. Relationships: Healthy work relationships are vital for good mental health. If bullying takes place at work, relationships are unlikely to promote good mental health. 
  2. Demands: Being unable to cope with the demands of their job will damage mental health.
  3. Control: This is when an employee feels they have no control over how they work.
  4. Support: Employees are kept out of the loop and aren’t supported when problems arise.
  5. Role: An employee who doesn’t fully understand their role and responsibilities is likely to become stressed.
  6. Change: When a business changes, employees will feel stressed if they are left out of the process.

How can I identify the signs of poor mental health among employees in my workplace?

It’s important to understand that not everyone going through a period of mental ill health will exhibit obvious signs. So you have to keep an open mind and not resort to negative and outdated stereotypes. It’s more about small changes in how a person acts that might first be a sign that all is not well. 

Their attendance and punctuality might change, or their work might not be of the usual quality.

A change in how an employee interacts with others might be a clue. Perhaps they are less talkative than usual and appear a bit distant. The reverse might also be the case, with someone being noisier and more agitated than usual. A loss of confidence and an increase in emotional responses can also indicate that someone is stressed.

What can I do to promote good mental health in my workplace?

The best thing you can do to take care of mental health in your workplace is also the simplest. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! Because it involves talking to people about their mental health. 

‘How are you?’ ‘How are you doing?’ These questions have to be sincerely asked, and then you have to listen to the answer. Because this is how you will create an open and honest culture in your workplace. A culture that recognises that we’re all human and we’ve been through a lot. Because together, we can make sure that mental health is important in our workplaces.

How can SupportRoom help my company?

Here, at SupportRoom, we offer employee therapy for small to medium businesses. Our platform allows employees to receive therapy on-demand from a  dedicated, qualified therapist.

Our SME Employee Support platform is designed to give insightful data that allows your employees to track their progress and monitor their own mental and physical health.

Book a free demo here.