August 31, 2022

How can we improve mental health at work?

How can we improve mental health at work?

Problems related to mental health in the workplace are often taboo, with employees keeping a low profile. Indeed, mental health in the workplace is often sidelined, neglected and poorly managed. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it possible to rethink mental health in the workplace. It has raised new questions and highlighted the need for better care. 

Many factors impact on our mental health at work. It's a complex issue, all the more so in today's hyper-connected, fast-changing world. We therefore need to think hard about how we can establish a sound strategy for dealing with employees experiencing problems such as burn-out, depression or anxiety in the workplace. 

There are 3 stages to this process:  

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

‍Definingmental health for better management at work

Despite the difficulty of defining mental health due to its broad nature, the WHO has managed to characterize it as "a state of well-being that enables people to achieve self-fulfillment, overcome the stresses of life, do productive work and contribute to their communities". 

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

From this point of view, we can distinguish 2 concepts to define this work-related mental balance: quality of life and well-being. 

  • Quality of life corresponds to "a feeling of well-being at work perceived collectively and individually, encompassing atmosphere, corporate culture, interest in work, working conditions, sense of involvement, degree of autonomy and empowerment, equality, the right to make mistakes, recognition and appreciation of work done".  
  • Well-being at work refers to a more global approach, characterizing both physical and mental health by defining satisfaction and a feeling of fulfillment at work. 

How do you represent quality of life at work or QWL? 

Causes of mental health problems in the workplace 

Although beneficial in its socializing aspect, work can become a source of stress and anxiety. Overwork, tension and conflict, and a lack of autonomy can all lead to a loss of motivation. 

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

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

  • Intensity and working hours: a lack of visibility on work and tasks to be carried out, 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 is detrimental to motivation and productivity,
  • Emotional demands : poor communication practices between employees and employers can cause tension and increase stress in the workplace,
  • Lack of responsibility and autonomy: autonomy in the workplace is a confidence-building factor for employees, who may feel happier when assigned tasks where they feel they have a role to play. In a situation where employees are not necessarily given responsibility, a certain lack of motivation may set in, leading to fatigue and sometimes even work-related mental health problems, 
  • 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 sense 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 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, bringing to the forefront the need to support employees working remotely. The various confinements have profoundly altered work practices and affected the mental state of employees sometimes overworked by working at home. 

But don't give up hope! The world of work is constantly evolving. Today, the advent of companies aspiring to support and help employees, the organization of conferences dedicated to well-being in the workplace, and the multiplication of resources linked to the promotion of mental health in the workplace suggest that mental health may become a major issue over the next few 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 working life issues are increasingly becoming part of professional language. 

Public authorities, too, can be a driving force behind this change in mentality. The notion of recognizing mental disorders at work, such as burn-out, depression and others, is an important one, as it opens the door to compensation. In 2015, for example, burn-out was recognized in France as an occupational disease, as was the case in Belgium, which recognized burn-out on July 13, 2006 (MB1/09/2006).

On an international scale, organizations are also becoming aware of the need for policies to support mental health and employment. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), for example, published a set of global principles in 2016 as the Council Recommendation on Integrated Mental Health, Skills and Employment Policy. The recommendations are called on to promote schemes to address the consequences that mental health problems can have on education, health, employment and social life. 

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

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