Having healthy employees is key when maintaining productivity levels at work. However, a large number of organizations limit their consideration of health to the physical aspects, just offering regular checks as a means of promoting health at work. The thing is, why is mental health seen as something separate from what we normally consider “health promotion” at work?
Human resources’ (HR) tasks and responsibilities are more than just payroll, grievances, hiring and policy. HR has evolved over the few last years, understanding that human capital is one of the organization’s most valuable assets. A good and quite obvious reason for this is that without people, there is no activity: employees give life to the business.
It has been proven that well-being is a predictor of employee and organizational productivity. Hence, having healthy employees should be one of the main organizational goals.
However, how can mental health be promoted at work?
First of all, it is imperative to understand that there is no health without mental health, and well-being at work has to be seen as a holistic concept, which entails several areas of employees’ well-being. According to the CIPD (2017), these are: health, work, values, social and personal growth. Furthermore, by aligning the organization’s goals and policies with well-being strategies, mental health will be then promoted at work and general health will increase as well.
Unfortunately, work culture only seems to be focused on productivity levels in order to increase profits, which is reasonable for any employer, but what facilitates productivity should also be a matter of concern. Productivity is dynamic: it doesn’t remain the same across time, because people change, employees change and so does the organization. The same applies to well-being and mental health, which can be affected by different situations at work that raise stress levels. For example, the sense of well-being at work in the UK has been rated as very low, with many people experiencing very high levels of work pressure and stress. One of the reasons for this is that well-being strategies are not a clear enough part of the organizational values, and therefore all the workload is very likely to affect employees’ mental health.
How does workload affect employees’ mental health?
Factors affecting mental health include long shifts, extra hours, work pressure, undefined values, unattractive salaries and work benefits, lack of training, demanding managers and miscommunication within the team. All these contribute to a work/life imbalance. All these increase stress levels, and it is known that high stress levels trigger anxiety, depression and procrastination, and can also affect self-esteem due to the high demands at work, which probably ends up compromising personal life as well. Being busy doesn’t mean being productive.
So what can HR do about all this?
As mentioned before, mental health cannot be isolated from health. Firstly, HR can seek to understand that depression and anxiety are indeed real issues and that they can affect anybody – managers, directors, administrative staff, etc. The more stress an employee undergoes, the more it is likely to affect his/her mental health. People change throughout the years, and so do their life experiences, having up and downs that employers should bear in mind, not only when hiring, but also when retaining and motivating their staff.
Secondly, HR should train managers and executive staff to understand mental health issues such as depression and its causes, and how to support employees. It’s not about turning managers into mental health professionals, but teaching them how mental health can be compromised at work when lack of support and respect occur. HR should analyze leadership styles within the company and explore how to really motivate staff instead of pushing them to the edge to achieve unrealistic organizational goals. Raising awareness of the effects of a lack of organization, high demands and unnecessary work pressure is a way of encouraging staff to develop new strategies to work more efficiently and therefore improve their work/life balance. Managers’ input can make all the difference.
Thirdly, HR can promote mental health by supporting the life/work balance within the organization and reviewing the organizational culture. For example, encouraging employees to take breaks helps to release tension and having lunch away from the desk is a must to clear the mind. And honestly, extra hours are unnecessary most of the time. If the regular daily eight hours are not enough, something is wrong.
All in all, the biggest step one can take to promote mental health at work is basically understanding what it is and being willing to improve the organizational factors that affect it. By pressuring employees, productivity won’t necessarily increase – and if it seems to do so, it won’t last. Additionally, quality is very likely to be affected as well. Forget about regular health checks to promote health or engagement at work. Focus instead on the organizational values and how the organization can be a healthy workplace – overall!
Karolina Silva is BSc in Psychology and MSc in Occupational and Business Psychology
Diploma in Diagnosis and Psychotherapeutic Approach. Counselling and Psychotherapy training
Well-being and mental health promoter in the workplace
Experience in HR, mainly in recruitment and selection processes, career path and guidance, performance, work environment analysis and organizational culture.
You can contact Karolina via Twitter