Reducing Mental Health Stressors in the Workplace

Sep 1st, 2021

Now more than ever, employers are aware of the effects poor mental health can have on employees, from their basic life satisfaction to their work performance. Moreover, most employers are aware that work itself can have a negative impact on the mental health of their employees. Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, 91% of worker’s compensation claims involving a mental health condition were linked to work-related stress, or mental stress.
Employers have an obligation under Work Health and Safety laws to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. Doing this is easier said than done, however. Employers need to be able to critically look at their business and their workplace in order to identify the specific risks and hazards that may be affecting their employees, and implement measures that foster a positive and supportive workplace environment so that their employees can thrive, physically and mentally.

Common mental health workplace hazards include:

Poor Environmental Conditions

Environmental hazards such as poor air quality, extreme heat, poor lighting, and extreme noise levels don’t just pose risk factors for an employee’s physical  health. All of these, and others, can contribute to a stressful, substandard and dangerous workplace environment that consistently disheartens employees.

High Job Demands

Some workers thrive on a fast-paced, challenging work environment. However, some don’t, and for those that do, there can be a limit even for them. Employees that are burdened with unreasonable, excessive demands can experience intense amounts of stress. This type of pressure is a serious mental health risk for employees, and if it continues over a long period of time it can lead to employee burnout.

Bullying is a significant psychosocial factor that can disrupt workplaces and introduce incredible stress and anxiety to the working environment, and not just for the victims. Bullying is defined as repeated, unreasonable behaviour by a worker or group of workers towards another worker or group of workers.
It is important that employers have policies and procedures in place to combat bullying, and all employers should attempt to foster a positive work environment wherein affected employees can reliably seek help and assistance from the appropriate parties.

Poor Organisational Change Management

Many employees find comfort in a routine wherein they know they can reliably perform their role, and change, even when handled well, can increase employee anxiety and job insecurity.
Last minute changes to their work roster, improperly communicating to employees how and when any workplace changes will take place, as well as just how they will be effected, are all organisational changes that can detrimentally impact an employee’s mental health.
It is therefore in an employer’s best interests to formulate and follow strict procedures when making changes to their employees’ workplace so that they can adapt as smoothly as possible and any stress is minimised. Depending on if the employees are covered by a Federal award, this could involve a consultation process wherein employees are notified of the changes and are allowed to provide their own comments and perspective on the changes before they are conducted.

Remote or Isolated Work

This is especially timely in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it relates to employees that are either unable to or struggle to seek assistance due to the nature of their work location, the time they perform work, or the nature of they work they perform.
This can add increased stress to their duties since they may feel they are not being adequately supported by their employer, which may lead to other types of mental health issues. Furthermore, if they cannot seek adequate assistance, their job performance may suffer, which then snowballs into increased stress and anxiety in the workplace.
Employers should ensure that adequate support is provided to these employees. From a working from perspective, this may include ensuring employees can reach each other through chat platforms such as Microsoft Teams, and that information employees will readily need in the performance of their duties can be found easily, such as through a cloud service.
When looking to reduce mental health stressors in the workplace, it is important that employers take a critical look at their workplace to ensure they are fulfilling their WHS obligations adequately, all the while providing an open door for their employees to approach them at any time with any concerns they have.
Not only is it probable that employee productivity will therefore improve, but it provides a chance for their employee’s mental health to thrive.

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