Supporting Mental Wellness in The Workplace
By Lori Jazvac.
Are your clients feeling stressed at work?
Today’s continuously changing workplaces are increasingly fast-paced and competitive, and it seems that employers have ever-higher expectations and demands. Examples of themes and scenarios contributing to workplace stress are:
- High-end technologies and artificial intelligence are enforcing the requirement for additional training related to the development of new and marketable skills.
- Globalization, industry changes, and competitive customer demands are fuelling concerns about job and financial security.
- Bullying and harassment incidents in the workplace are on the rise.
Some clients I work with experience physical and mental stress due to increased workloads, company restructurings, or short staffing. Even with larger workloads and higher-level responsibilities, very few of these clients receive time for breaks, never mind appropriate pay increases.
They are smart and perfectly capable of handling their demanding jobs, yet the constant daily grind of driving bottom-line results affects their wellbeing and performance. Over time, this constant stress may diminish productivity and negatively impact job satisfaction, personal growth, and family life.
According to Statistics Canada, almost 40% of Canadians suffer from workplace stress. It is estimated that 20% of Canadians will suffer from a mental health related problem at some point in their lives. Many, though, hesitate to voice their concerns and many others suffer in silence.
The key stressors include schedule inflexibility, long hours, constant connectivity, tight deadlines, and lack of vacation time.
Untreated workplace stress is a serious and costly health issue
Stress costs our nation $20 billion annually due to employers’ loss of productivity through absenteeism, reduced work output, and increased disability claims (75% of short-term claims are mental health related). Depression, anxiety, and an impaired focus can result if prolonged stress goes untreated. Yet, these conditions are not always given well-deserved attention, potentially leading to even more negative and serious repercussions.
Address the mental health stigma by taking action
Mental health issues have been seen as a stigma in the workplace in the past, but, fortunately, more employers are now recognizing the importance – and benefits – of proactively addressing this critical issue. Human resource departments are instituting coaching, company wellness initiatives, improved employee benefits, team sports events, and employee appreciation days, along with restructured, more efficient work processes.
Integrating wellness support programs, along with work optimization processes (job enlargement or rotation, organizational culture re-engineering, or eliminating overtime), can help promote a more fulfilling workplace. What is needed is a culture focused on inspiring more accountability, constructive feedback, employee engagement, and team collaboration.
Employers that promote a culture of participation and equity, while challenging stigma and discrimination, build empowering workplaces and retain loyal employees. In their captivating series on workplace mental health, The Globe and Mail’s Bill Howatt and Louise Bradley report that businesses adopting policies and programs to address psychological health and safety incur between 15% to 33% lower costs related to health issues.
How career professionals can help
What can career professionals do to help clients maximize productivity and keep stress levels in check?
- Support your clients by providing a caring, attentive ear to their concerns about work-related stress. Be a change advocate when and where appropriate.
- Help your clients identify their stressors, and work on minimizing those stressors with proactive solutions and social support strategies.
- If your client is seeking to transition into a new role with a new company, ensure that he or she researches the nature of the target workplace. Help your client identify organizations with a culture that puts work-life balance first or otherwise aligns with that client’s values.
- Help your clients put their priorities in perspective by coaching them on how to respectfully set clear boundaries and say “no” when necessary.
- Motivate them to take short breaks whenever possible. Leaving the work environment for a few minutes during the day to stretch or meditate may reduce stress. Something as simple as a change of scenery can be reinvigorating.
- Remind clients of the importance of maintaining a healthy, balanced eating plan and exercise regimen. Encourage them to make time for fun activities, including engaging in hobbies.
- Encourage them to champion continuous improvement in their workplaces. Examples include advocating for mental health days, leading health/safety committees, and re-engineering processes so that work time is shortened and stress is minimized.
- Refer clients for additional professional support where appropriate (mental health counselling).
- Suggest an ergonomic friendly office environment, which can reduce physical strain and optimize efficiency, especially when working in front of a computer for 8 or more hours a day.
As a community of career professionals, we can do our part in raising awareness of the importance of workplace mental health. It’s an issue that if openly discussed and deliberately attended to can reap a myriad of benefits for employees and their employers.