Current trends in wellness point to the importance of Total Wellness, which is a more comprehensive view of an individual’s well-being. “With total well-being, wellness isn’t just about healing our bodies. It’s about nourishing our minds, spirits, communities and environment through holistic practices that uplift everyone involved.”1
In honour of Mental Health Week, we’re going to focus the discussion on mental health, an area of wellness that some still shy away from. Although efforts by organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association are making progress in spreading awareness about mental health, many employers still believe that an employee’s mental health is none of their business. The amount of time that people spend at their workplace, however, emphasizes that this is far from the truth.
Employees spend nearly a third of their week at work. Their workplace, therefore, directly influences their well-being and that emphasizes the importance of addressing mental health:
- One in five people will face a mental health problem in any given year.2
- 44% of workers say they have or have had mental health issues.6
- According to The Conference Board of Canada, research has found that lost productivity due to depression and anxiety alone is costing the Canadian economy billions of dollars.3
- According to the World Health Organization, by 2020 mental health problems will be the second leading cause of disability in the world. By that same year, they will be the leading cause in Canada.4
- A recent survey, conducted by Leger, found that one in four working Canadians has left a job due to stress and 17% have considered it. Overall, 58% of working Canadians say that they feel overworked.5
- Among those with mental illness, a compelling 72% indicate their condition has negatively affected their work.6
As employers, it’s important for us to recognize its important and to raise awareness of mental health. We can also take steps to create a mentally healthy work environment for ourselves and our employees. When implemented properly, wellness initiatives can have a significant impact.
So what are some strategies for the workplace to help reduce the risk of mental health issues for employees? At a high level, there are three areas to look at: environment, education, and support.
Create a Healthy Environment
As an organization, you need to make mental health a priority. The mental well-being of people at work is a benefit to everyone in the workplace. Healthy employees are happier and more productive, and can better support the organization and its success. As with all components of wellness, the importance of mental health must become part of the culture.
The stigma related to mental health is real, so it’s important to establish the mindset that it’s not a taboo subject, that it’s something that can be openly discussed. The more commonplace mental health conversations become, the more likely employees are to recognize symptoms of issues, to leverage available resources or approach management when they need support.
In addition to raising awareness about the topic, consider it when developing operational practices. It needs to be incorporated into the overall strategy of the operations from policies and programs to day-to-day activities. There are preventative health actions that we can take within our work environment that can help reduce stress, increase energy, moods and positivity, which in turn can reduce the likelihood of mental health issues from arising in the first place.
- Incorporate physical elements like natural lighting and plants into the workspace, and get outdoors for meetings and breaks to promote overall wellness.
- Encourage employees to take breaks during the day and make it acceptable for employees to take personal days to recharge when necessary.
- Establish a way to demonstrate gratitude such as a message board to recognize achievements and post positive messages to help employees feel appreciated and show their appreciation for others.
- Look for ways to innovate your workspace to support mental health with ideas such as nap or relaxation rooms, lunchtime yoga sessions, and afternoon stretch breaks.
- Organize team activities and health-related challenges and events to promote connections and relationships.
- Support a healthy work-life balance by encouraging employees to take vacation and adjust expectations that employees must respond to emails around the clock.
- Consider flexible work schedules if your business allows – A 2018 survey indicated that 77% of professionals believe that flexible work options would help them be physically and mentally healthier.7
Ensure Everyone is Educated
Despite the fact that 1 in 5 people deal with mental health problems each year2, a large number suffer in silence. Some may not even realize that they are experiencing a mental health issue and attribute their symptoms as a normal part of stress. Without the right information, it’s easy for people to misunderstand mental health and not know how to address it properly. Helping people learn how to self-check, recognize risk factors and identify symptoms is extremely valuable.
Armed with the right information, everyone can help support the company’s mental health strategy and take action to keep themselves healthy and respond appropriately if issues do arise. More formal education such as workshops and webinars must also be supplemented with ongoing communication to nurture the culture of caring you establish. You must look for repeated opportunities to incorporate the subject into the day-to-day.
As an organization, you need to ensure that all levels of staff are educated. Employees need to see management demonstrate the importance of mental health if they are to believe they genuinely care about their well-being. Train managers to pay attention and look for signs of mental health problems and how to respond.
It’s also important to emphasize that mental health does not exist in its own silo. It is a component of overall health. Many physical health initiatives can be applied to and support mental well-being, and your wellness strategy and associated education must communicate and promote that reality.
- Provide training to management so they are better able to identify mental health issues and understand how to approach and assist employees experiencing a problem.
- Ensure managers and employees know what resources are available to them, where to find them and how to use them.
- Make these resources easy to access, which may mean making information available remotely or offering content in different formats.
- Ensure resources are relevant and include accurate, up-to-date and practice guidance that employees can use.
- Focus on leadership training and giving managers the skills to have conversations about mental health with their teams.
- Reiterate the value to physical wellness to mental health and look at office ergonomics and encourage time for exercise and fitness.
- Foster an open dialogue on the issue by showcasing role models, encouraging personal storytelling and providing examples of success.
- Provide access to confidential mental health screenings by inviting professionals into the office or leveraging online assessment tools.
Demonstrate Ongoing Support
Mental health issues are very treatable, so it is essential that employees are supported when they seek help. Although most employees will not hesitate to take time off work to go to the dentist or visit the doctor for physical ailments, many are not so eager to address mental health needs. By clearly communicating that you support their efforts to care for their mental health, you encourage them to take action and address issues rather than suffer quietly.
- Make it very clear that privacy will be respected and that they can expect confidentiality and anonymity as they address their mental health challenge.
- Create a positive rapport with staff and pay attention so you are ready to help with a situation arises.
- Organize activities and approach work projects in ways that establish and foster healthy and supportive relationships in the workplace.
- Provide supportive reintegration into the work environment after a leave of absence or time away from work.
- Make stress management programs available to managers and employees.
- Allow flexible work schedule options to accommodate counselling or therapy appointments when employees have sought help for their mental health challenges.
Need some more assistance?
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1Dunn, Nicole. Total Well-Being: The Wellness Trend Of 2019; April 18, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeslacouncil/2019/04/18/total-well-being-the-wellness-trend-of-2019/#4c8f4a6020fd
2Mental Health in the Balance: Ending the Health Care Disparity in Canada, 2018.
3The Conference Board of Canada. Wellness Initiatives: Trends in Organizational Health Management; November 16, 2017. https://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=9106&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
4Comprehensive mental health action plan 2013-2020, WHO, 2013.
5Monster Canada. The Stress Test, 2017. https://www.monster.ca/career-advice/article/stress-major-cause-of-job-dropouts-in-canada
6Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey 2018: https://www.sanofi.ca/-/media/Project/One-Sanofi-Web/Websites/North-America/Sanofi-CA/Home/en/About-us/The-Sanofi-Canada-Healthcare-Survey/The-Sanofi-Canada-Healthcare-Survey-2018—Full-Report.pdf?la=en&hash=AE6899CB29A043F778B1BE34132E85B4A1183010
7Reynolds, Brie Weiler. The Mental Health Benefits of Remote and Flexible Work; December 20, 2018. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/blog/mental-health-benefits-remote-and-flexible-work