August 31, 2022

How can we improve mental health at work?

How can we improve mental health at work?

Mental health issues in the workplace are often taboo, and employees tend to keep them to themselves. Indeed, mental health in the workplace is often overlooked, neglected and under-addressed. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed us to rethink mental health in the workplace. It has raised new questions and shown the need for better management 

Many things impact our mental health at work. This is a complex issue, especially in today's hyper-connected and fast-paced environment. We need to think deeply to establish a solid strategy to better manage employees experiencing problems such as burn-out, depression or anxiety in the workplace. 

To carry out this reflection, 3 steps are necessary:  

  • Understanding mental health 
  • Understand the factors that can affect it
  • Recognizing mental health issues in the workplace 

Defining mental health to better manage it at work

Despite the difficulty in defining mental health because of its broad nature, the WHO has come to characterize it as "a state of well-being that enables people to achieve self-actualization, cope with the stresses of life, do productive work, and contribute to their communities. 

At work, this well-being depends on many elements such as the health of the company, the atmosphere between colleagues, the working conditions, or the feeling of security. The emergence of the notion of well-being and the concerns related to working conditions were accentuated with the COVID-19 pandemic, when many employers were confronted with the growing malaise of their workers. The main issue is to find a balance in the mental health of the employee within their work structure.  

From this point of view, we can distinguish two concepts that allow us to define this mental balance in relation to work: quality of life and well-being. 

  • The quality of life corresponds to "a feeling of well-being at work perceived collectively and individually, which includes the atmosphere, the company culture, the interest in the work, the working conditions, the feeling of involvement, the degree of autonomy and accountability, equality, a right to make mistakes granted to everyone, recognition and appreciation of the work done".  
  • Well-being at work refers to a more global approach, it characterizes both physical and mental health by defining satisfaction and a feeling of fulfillment at work. 

How to represent the quality of life at work or QWL? 

Causes of mental health problems in the workplace 

Although beneficial because of its socializing aspect, work can become a source of stress and anxiety. An overload of work, an environment where tensions and conflicts exist or a lack of autonomy can lead to a loss of motivation for the employee. 

In the latest report published by the Pierre Deniker Foundation, 22% of working French people are experiencing distress related to a mental well-being disorder. The report shows that women are even more affected than men, with 26% for women and 19% for men. 

It is clear that the first step in preventing mental health problems is to identify and understand them. Here is a list of some risk factors: 

  • Work intensity and time: a lack of visibility on the work and tasks to be done, assigned objectives that are difficult to achieve, long and intense working days, a lack of rest, expecting employees to perform at their best... All this imposes a great deal of mental pressure and harms motivation and productivity,
  • Emotional demands: poor communication practices between employees and employers can cause tension and increase stress at work,
  • Lack of responsibility and autonomy: autonomy at work is a confidence factor for the employee who can feel happier when he/she is assigned tasks where he/she feels his/her importance, in a case where he/she is not necessarily given responsibility, a certain de-motivation can set in leading to weariness and sometimes even mental health problems linked to work, 
  • Social environment at work: the environment in which employees evolve has a direct influence on their well-being, for example a good understanding between office colleagues creates a feeling of belonging and trust which is essential for their personal and professional development. Conversely, a poor atmosphere and the existence of conflicts can lead to total demotivation and a desire to leave the workplace to escape the negative feelings.

Towards recognition of mental health problems in the workplace 

The COVID-19 crisis offered a new perspective on mental disorders in the workplace, notably by bringing to the forefront the need to support employees working remotely. The various confinements have profoundly changed work practices and affected the mental state of employees who are sometimes overworked by working at home. 

However, we must not lose hope! Indeed, the world of work is in constant evolution. Today, the advent of companies aspiring to accompany and help their employees, the organization of conferences dedicated to well-being in the workplace, the multiplication of resources related to the promotion of mental health in the workplace suggest that mental health may become a major issue in the coming years. Managers, organizations and employees are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health in the workplace and the need to promote it. Quality of work life issues are increasingly becoming part of the professional language. 

The public authorities, too, can be a driving force in this change of mentality. The notion of recognition of mental disorders at work such as burn-out, depression and others is important because it gives the right to compensation for the damage. In 2015, burn-out is for example recognized in France as an occupational disease, it is also the case of Belgium which recognizes burn-out on July 13th 2006 (MB1/09/2006).

Internationally, organizations are also becoming aware of the need for supportive mental health and employment policies. For example, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) published a set of global principles in 2016 as the Council Recommendation on Integrated Mental Health, Skills and Employment Policy. The recommendations are called to promote arrangements to address the consequences that mental health problems can have on education, health, employment and social life. 

To learn more about how to improve mental health in the workplace, we invite you to read the article entitled "The 4 pillars of better mental health in the workplace".

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