Mental Health at Work: Issues with Workplace Wellness in Working Environments
Let’s be frank, we do need to nip mental health issues in the bud. The importance of having a healthy workforce is not a new issue. Yet we have reached a tipping point in terms of escalating cost of mental health issues, particularly in relation to workplace mental health. Did you know that the impact in Australia in terms of poor mental health of employee is a whopping $10.9B OH&S issue per annum (PwC, 2014).
Growing concerns about mental health at work
“Industrial machinery has never been safer and OH&S policy never more progressive”. Yet, progress in technology can do little to detect the impaired cognitive judgement of a worker who is under the spell of a depressive episode. Or who might be drinking at work to numb the pain of a recent separation from his wife. Even though workplace health & safety legislation now applies equally to the psychological dimension of health, it seems that most employers continue to be reactive in their approaches, often discovering signs of mental illness in the workplace when it is a bit too late for effective measures.
The psychological hazard of workplaces are growing, as are Absenteeism and poor productivity
Deteriorating Workplace Mental Health in working environments is not good for any employer’s bottom line.
However, if you are employed as a crane truck driver for a construction company and management have cut staff levels, intensifying your workload, putting more strain on capabilities and you are feeling insecure about your next shift, then we are no longer talking about morale or productivity, but rather your health and safety in this role. A manager who is educated about psychosocial risk factors might notice the sleepless eyes, sluggish movements and sad demeanour of his crane truck driver. He might then suspect impaired concentration and intervene before a workplace injury or fatality occurs. This example is backed up by mounting evidence that modern-day working pressures can have adverse occupational health & safety (Quinlan & Bohle, 2009) effects and increase the risk of workplace injuries.
Preventative vs Reactive workplace measures for Workplace Mental Health
Did you ever hear the poem “Ambulance Down in the Valley”? It presents an OH&S analogy of a farm house on a cliff top who had an ambulance in the valley (in case there was an accident!) instead of a fence around the perimeter of the house? This is often the case for managing mental health issues, reactive measures are in place ahead of preventive strategies. The application of proven preventative strategies for reducing the likelihood for the issues taking flight is essential to creating a psychologically health workplace.
Model for creating psychologically healthy workplaces
At EHC we refer to our model of promoting Psychologically Healthy Workplaces as Working Wellness. Using this model we:
- Assess the underlying reasons for staff turnover, sick leave or stress claims
- Review staff culture and emotional climate
- Identify contributing positive and/or negative workplace practices and behaviours
- Design workplace changes and programs to minimise harm and improve workplace wellbeing, where applicable
- Educate staff to improve detection of warning signs of mental illness, decrease stigma of mental illness, foster resilience through enhancing training and important of stress management
- Support employees to address issues and utilise resources to manage mental health issues
Mental Health in the Workplace – Where do we go from here?
Employers need to view the psychological health and wellbeing of their staff as core to business, rather than relegating it to the bottom of the list or only reacting when problems arise. The priority needs to become one of embedding protective factors in the workforce, investing in early intervention (e.g. identifying psychosocial risk factors, providing employee coaching and counselling support) and widening the discussion about employee wellbeing to include issues of mental health. Once again, if this is viewed as a fluffy ‘nice to have’ rather than an Occupational Health & Safety issue, then it is unlikely that meaningful behavioural change (& reductions in workplace incidents) will happen.
Is your workplace in need of a mental health adjustment?
If you are interested in learning how to prevent psychological stress injuries, identify the early warning signs of mental illness or better yet, be proactive about cultivating ‘Workplace Wellness’ at your workplace, then contact the Emotional Health Centre (EHC) on (03) 9584 5150.
Contributors from Emotional Health Centre (EHC): Nicole Plotkin, Psychologist/ Director and Greg Hack, Psychologist and trainer.