Health & Wellness

How Workplaces Can Affect Mental Health

By Kandy Cantwell on October, 13 2020
3 minute read

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For many reasons, mental health is in the spotlight. Much of the discussion focuses on how life stress impacts the workplace.  However, we need to remember that the workplace contributes to an employee’s mental well-being, too.  

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What impact does the workplace have on mental health, and how can employers create a work environment that improves your employees’ mental health?

In this blog you’ll learn about some ways the workplace can negatively affect mental health, how you can determine if any of these issues exist within your organization, and how to address them. 


3 Causes of Workplace-related Mental Health Issues

There are many potential areas of the working environment that can affect mental health. However for most businesses, three stand above the rest:

  1. Poor communication from management
  2. Lack of support from co-workers and management
  3. Inflexible working hours or overly demanding working hours

The problems can have substantial impact on an employee’s mental health, from an increased rate of absenteeism to ruminative anxiety that makes them feel stressed and exhausted throughout the day. 


Set Clear Expectations About Working Hours

There are a million tiny ways work can creep into an employee’s “time off.” 

All an employee has to do is respond to one email on Sunday morning to set an expectation that they’re available. Just like that, a brief peek at the inbox turns into periodically checking emails on weekends. These small tasks have a cumulative effect. Not only does checking emails take their attention away from friends and family (not to mention the effect it has on their ability to nap), it means they’re never truly getting a rest from work. 

One approach is from the top-down. Have your leadership team make a display of not working more than the required hours and make it clear that they’re not checking emails on the weekend or after work. 

This is an effective way to keep your staff fully engaged during working hours, allowing them to log off for the day and relax. One reason employees work extra hours and weekends is that they feel there is an unstated expectation to do so. Even if their contract states that work finishes at 5:30 pm Monday to Friday, if they see their boss staying in the office till 6 or 7 regularly, they’ll follow suit. Likewise, if they know their boss is leaving at 5:30 each day, your employers will too. 

The top down approach isn’t always possible. Executives are extremely busy and sometimes working long hours and on weekends is part of the job. In those cases, the leadership team can make it clear that just because they are working odd hours doesn’t mean their employees should do the same. 

One example of this is executives including a note of any emails sent to staff after hours or on weekends, which states that the email was sent at a convenient time for them and that there is no expectation of an immediate reply.


Recognize Your Employees' Efforts

We might’ve taken it for granted: the pats on the back after a good meeting or the thumbs up of approval from the boss at the end of the day. When offices transitioned to remote work, these little moments of appreciation largely disappeared. Now, many employees are realizing how important they were. 

Prolonged periods of work without much positive reinforcement can cause ruminative anxiety. Employee’s may begin to worry about their performance, where they stand in their boss’s eyes, and whether or not others think they’re doing a good job. 

This can be compounded if the majority of communication employees have with their co-workers and bosses is limited to when problems arise. If every conversation is focused on solving a problem or fixing a mistake, employees can quickly begin to feel as if they are not appreciated at work.

Ruminative anxiety can have an impact on every aspect of an employee’s life. They can feel pangs of dread on Sunday night, have trouble sleeping, and become unable to stop worrying about work, even when there’s no project demanding their attention. 

One way to fix this problem is to remember to congratulate and encourage employees. Follow-up with them after a project to let them know that you appreciate their effort and congratulate them on a job well done. Even short little emails every once in a while thanking them for their hard work goes a long way to keeping their morale high and preventing doubt and anxiety creeping into their minds. 

Another approach is to hold periodical check-ins with your employees. Ask them what aspects of the workplace they enjoy and what aspects are causing them difficulties. This provides an opportunity for employees to voice their concerns and struggles in an environment they feel comfortable in. 


Final Thoughts

Workplace mental health needs to be taken as seriously as any other aspect of an employee’s well-being. An environment in which employees feel safe and valued will bring out the best in each individual and greatly benefit your organization. 

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