An uptick in media coverage and public conversations surrounding mental health have spurred greater awareness of mental health challenges. At the same time, a confluence of difficult world events has created an urgent need for mental health resources – both at home and in the workplace.
A global survey by McKinsey found that even though roughly three-quarters of organizations surveyed are prioritizing workplace mental health programs, employee burnout remains high. Their research also found that “positive outcomes—such as job satisfaction and work engagement—are correlated with feeling included and supported, and with freedom from stigma or overwhelming workloads.”
As an Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) leader, understanding the benefits and key elements of creating a holistic mental health program in your workplace enables you to effectively address workplace culture and offers beneficial resources to your employees.
Benefits of EHS Mental Health Programs
A healthy mind is vital for maintaining both employee wellness and workplace productivity.
How workplace mental health programs benefit your employees
Workers gain several benefits from quality mental health programs in the workplace.
- Reduced stress: Comprehensive mental health programs provide employees with tools to manage stress effectively. This leads to lower stress levels and better coping mechanisms.
- Better work-life balance: These programs often include resources for achieving a healthier work-life balance. This helps workers avoid burnout and maintain personal relationships.
- Enhanced workplace relationships: Improved mental health translates to better interactions with colleagues. Workers are more likely to communicate effectively, collaborate, and contribute positively to team dynamics.
- Increased job satisfaction: Feeling supported in terms of mental health enhances overall job satisfaction. Employees who are content and fulfilled are more likely to remain committed to their roles and the organization.
- Greater focus on wellness: Mental health initiatives are often part of broader wellness programs. These programs encourage healthier lifestyles, encompassing both physical and mental well-being.
How workplace mental health programs benefit your organization
Here are a few ways your organization can benefit from implementing a holistic mental health program.
- Increased productivity: A mentally healthy workforce is a more productive one. Employees who have the resources to manage their mental well-being are better equipped to stay focused, make informed decisions, and perform at their best.
- Improved talent retention: Organizations that prioritize mental health create a positive and supportive workplace culture. This fosters employee loyalty and reduces turnover rates, leading to cost savings associated with recruitment and training.
- Reduced absenteeism: Mental health programs help employees manage stress and mental health challenges, reducing absenteeism due to mental health-related issues.
- Risk mitigation: Addressing mental health issues early can prevent larger problems from arising. Mental health programs help identify potential challenges and provide interventions before they escalate.
A Holistic Approach to Workplace Mental Health Programs
A holistic employee mental health program examines broader workplace culture to promote well-being at multiple levels. Such a program addresses the fundamental aspects of the work environment, fostering an authentic culture of support, inclusivity, and overall mental well-being.
Here are a few key elements for this approach.
The program would start with a comprehensive assessment of the existing workplace culture. This involves evaluating factors such as communication patterns, leadership styles, and attitudes toward mental health. A workplace culture assessment provides insights into areas that require improvement and informs the development of targeted strategies.
As the bridge between the C-suite and the workforce, EHS leaders play a vital role in prioritizing worker mental health programs. Securing commitment from leadership through integrating mental health considerations into the company's core values and mission sets a clear tone of support for your current and future workforce.
Holistic mental health programs prioritize leadership development. Training managers and leaders in empathetic communication, active listening, and stress management equips them to create a supportive environment and respond effectively to employees' mental health concerns.
Policy review and development
The program would involve a thorough review of existing policies to ensure they support mental well-being. New policies could be developed to address work-life balance, remote work flexibility, and accommodation for mental health needs.
A holistic program extends to physical health as well. Initiatives like fitness classes, mindfulness workshops, and healthy eating options contribute to overall well-being and mental health.
Ensuring workloads are manageable and realistic reduces stress and burnout. Encouraging breaks, setting reasonable expectations, and providing opportunities for skill development contribute to a healthier work-life balance.
Global Mental Health Regulations and Guidelines
Global employers need to be aware of regulations that impact their workforce across jurisdictions. Here are some examples of workplace mental health regulations and guidelines from around the world.
Australia has a Model Code of Practice on Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying. This code provides guidelines for employers to prevent and address workplace bullying, which can have significant mental health implications. It includes recommendations for risk assessment, creating policies, and providing training.
Some States and Territories have now included the requirement to manage psychosocial risks in the workplace in the regulations (e.g. New South Wales).
The HSE in the UK provides guidelines for managing work-related stress. Employers are required to assess and manage the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities. This includes identifying stressors, implementing control measures, and providing appropriate support.
Canada developed a voluntary standard that provides guidelines for promoting psychological health and safety in the workplace. It addresses factors such as workload management, work-life balance, and supportive leadership to prevent mental health issues.
There are also a few specific province acts related to mental health including:
(Bill 127) which amended several provisions of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act,
those governing the circumstances in which workers are entitled to benefits as a result of mental stress These amendments took effect on January 1, 2018. Workers are entitled to benefits for both traumatic and chronic mental stress that arises out of and in the course of the employment.
Workers in Ontario now have a right to disconnect when their regular work day is completed, which means not engaging in work-related communications or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work.
WorkSafe New Zealand provides resources for addressing work-related stress and mental health. Employers are encouraged to create a supportive work environment and identify and manage stressors that could impact employees' mental well-being.
The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand is a charity that works towards creating a society free from discrimination. They encourage policies, systems and laws that protect and promote wellbeing alongside providing resources and best practice guidelines for businesses.
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