Employee mental health has been a core part of occupational health and safety (OHS) for many years. But the issue really took centre stage when COVID came along.
According to government surveys, 1 in 5 Canadian adults were dealing with symptoms of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder in the fall of 2020. By the spring of 2021, that was up to 1 in 4.
Mental health has a huge impact on worker productivity. Depression, anxiety, and stress can make it difficult for people to focus or make decisions. That often leads to poor performance, absenteeism, and turnover.
Now more than ever, supporting the mental health of workers is a business imperative.
So what can OHS leaders do to create a psychologically safe and healthy work environment?
Here are a few strategies.
1. ASSESS THE SITUATION
It’s important to get a true sense of what’s happening within your organization.
Anonymous employee surveys can give you a big-picture view of how people are faring. Properly crafted, they can help you find out:
☑️ What specific workplace factors are contributing to poor mental health (such as a blurring of work and home life or a lack of control over workload)
☑️ How comfortable workers are in approaching their managers with mental health issues☑️ If people understand where or how to access support
You can also gather data by talking to employees during routine workplace inspections. Psychosocial hazards aren’t readily visible, so you need to ask.
Disability claims can be another valuable source of information. (In Canada, roughly 30% of such claims stem from mental health issues.) See if you can identify any specific teams or departments that are having more problems and need greater support.
The point is to keep tabs on what’s happening with the staff so that you can develop policies and practices to address common challenges.
2. TRAIN LEADERS TO RECOGNIZE WARNING SIGNS
OHS managers are responsible for developing programs to educate staff about safety, and that includes psychological safety.
Managers and supervisors must be taught how to spot signs of distress in their team members. Picking up on such signs is easier when people are all in the same office—if someone appears chronically fatigued or distracted, or suddenly stops joining colleagues in the lunchroom, it could indicate a problem.
With remote employees who only connect face to face through the occasional video call, it’s more challenging. Supervisors should watch for changes in a worker’s communication style and take note if they seem to be less engaged than usual.
Leaders also need to know when and how they should intervene if they do notice something amiss. Show them how to begin the conversation, respect boundaries, and direct workers to appropriate resources.
3. EMBRACE FLEXIBLE WORK ARRANGEMENTS
A key aspect of a mentally healthy workplace is one that allows for flexibility in the way people work.
After more than a year of working remotely, many employees are reluctant to return to the office full time. And companies are listening: 76% of Canadian employers say they will allow staff to work from home at least part of the time, even once pandemic restrictions lift.
Flexibility should also apply to work schedules. People may need to work odd hours to accommodate caregiving responsibilities, for example.
Having a clear policy around adjusted schedules and remote working will help staff feel trusted and give them the flexibility to work in a way that suits them best.
4. PROVIDE EASY ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Have a look at what supports are currently available to employees and what could be added.
In response to the pandemic, many companies expanded the mental health benefits available through their employee assistance plans (EAPs).
See if your EAP offers things like online assessments, counseling sessions with a mental health therapist, and round-the-clock access to support. It’s important for services to be accessible both in-person and virtually.
Employees can also take advantage of apps that address mental health issues through stress management, meditation, and resilience training. Collect a list of relevant resources and share it on a staff-only site.
5. GET THE WORD OUT
Having mental health benefits available is meaningless unless people know about them—and feel free to utilize them.
EAPs typically have very low usage rates. That’s often because people either don’t realize the support is there, or they don’t feel comfortable using it due to the associated stigma.
So open communication is vital. Use team meetings, posters, newsletters, and other means to talk about mental health and let people know where and how to get support.
If anyone in the organization (especially a leader) has personal experience with mental health and is willing to share their story, that can go a long way toward normalizing the issue.
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SUPPORTING MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE?
Looking for OHS training that can show you how to promote the mental well-being of staff throughout your organization?
Have a look at the Health and Safety Management Certificate from Kompass Professional Development.
It covers strategies, initiatives, and policies you can use to manage risks, improve worker well-being, and build a psychologically safe workplace.
Training is delivered online and can be completed in 10 to 20 weeks.
Click below to get complete details on the OHS course and chat live with an Admissions Advisor.