Mental Health in the Workplace: How to Create a Psychologically Healthy Space


Mental Health in the Workplace: How to Create a Psychologically Healthy Space

Employees are a company’s greatest asset. An organization prospers when its staff is psychologically healthy. However, when employees are not at their best physically or mentally, it can have serious repercussions. When a person’s mental health is compromised, it may be hard to meaningfully take part in their personal and professional life. Furthermore, mental health issues directly affect employers and businesses through increased absenteeism and negatively affecting productivity and profits. By involving employers, executive leadership teams, and employees at all levels in mental health initiatives, and emphasizing the importance of workplace mental wellbeing, you can create a psychologically healthy and safe environment that benefits everyone.  

As businesses encourage employees to return to work, mental health-related stress and anxiety have accelerated. This transition has been difficult for some employees and employers to respond to this influx in mental health issues. We sat down to discuss mental health in the workplace with experts and consultants to share some understanding on the subject. Continue reading to learn the role mental health plays in the resistance to returning to work, and what strategies can be implemented to better understand and support mental health challenges in the workplace to create a psychologically healthy work environment.  

What is a mental health expert, and what is their role in the workplace?  

A workplace mental health consultant or expert is brought into the workplace to help leaders create mentally healthy working environments within an organization and their teams. They most often work with an organization to address the organizational factors that are adversely affecting the mental health of their employees. Another way mental health consultants can help is by training upper management and teams individually on various aspects of mental health. Some examples include how to avoid burnout, develop resilience, and handle unmanageable workloads or how to bring up not feeling supported or recognized. Furthermore, they teach leaders how to recognize when an employee is struggling with their mental health and then how to respond appropriately, have that conversation with them, and connect them with the right types of support.  


Why mental health in the workplace is important  

The pandemic has allowed the global mental health crisis to come to the forefront, with increased awareness and dialogue taking place in all sectors of society, including workplaces. Mental health is a growing concern among younger generations, such as millennials and Generation Z, who are demanding it now more than ever. Jordan Friesen from Mindset Mental Health Strategy states that 

“Five to ten years ago, employees asked nicely for mental health support; now, they are not asking nicely. They are demanding it. And if they are not receiving the necessary support, they are leaving and seeking other work environments that support their mental health.”  

Furthermore, workplaces that do not partake in mental health initiatives put themselves at risk. According to Lucette Wesley of the Canadian Mental Health Association, there are many risks, ranging from financial risk because businesses may lose employees to hiring difficulties. Companies that are not concerned about their employees’ psychological health and safety may face legal consequences. Several legal cases in recent years have specifically addressed workplaces that may not be meeting psychological health and safety needs. Furthermore, not engaging with mental health can put companies at risk of employee disengagement. If you are not concerned about your employees’ mental health, they may not be engaged in their work. 


Mental health and returning to work  

As businesses ease back into the office, employees and employers are navigating new challenges in their mental health. According to a June McKinsey study, roughly one-third of workers stated that the transition to return to work had negatively affected their mental health. It is important to note that although people can share a similar experience of heightened anxiety and stress when returning to work, everyone is unique. Everyone has a different reason for not wanting to return to work or struggling with change. 

Human beings generally do not do so poorly with change. However, they do poorly with surprise, in turn, because of how it manifests in their psychological health. It is crucial to acknowledge that when returning to the office, employees are also losing something. Whether it is time with their families, money lost from commuting costs, or the flexibility they have had over the last two years. Employees are losing one thing or another, and it is pivotal to recognize that loss. If employers can acknowledge that loss, “it 1. demonstrates empathy and 2. is an effective way to begin building trust”, states Friesen. 

Because everyone is different and has diverse views on why they are anxious to come back into the office, it is vital to have open dialogue, states Lucette. Open communication allows HR professionals to better find stressors and understand mental health issues, which allows them to collaborate with employees to find solutions to support them. When looking for ways to help employees, it is best to collaborate with them and seek more feedback to make them feel included. Give them a voice because if you do not and simply impose strategies on them, they may not accept it. They are more likely to follow through if they come up with solutions independently or with help.  


How to Notice Signs of Poor Mental Health  

Every year, one in every five Canadian suffers from a mental illness. Despite the high pervasiveness of mental health problems, many Canadians say they have not actively sought help. Furthermore, according to Lifeworks’ 2021 mental-health index, “24% of Canadians say that work hinders their mental health and 11% say their experiences with their managers have not been positive since the pandemic began”. As a direct consequence, many people will either miss work or work less efficiently. This condition is known as presenteeism and occurs when individuals go to work while suffering from mental health problems. Therefore, it is critical for managers and team leaders to be trained to recognize when an employee may be suffering from mental health issues. As previously mentioned, everyone is unique and may exhibit different symptoms. Therefore, leaders must pay attention to any outward physical and behavioral changes.  

What you are looking for is some form of change. Some examples include a change in how they talk, not meeting deadlines that they used to make, coming in later, calling in sick more often, etc. A change can look like a positive one. For example, someone starts wearing more makeup or taking a higher interest in their appearance. However, any change should be noted because it could indicate that someone is struggling. 


Ways leaders and HR personnel can help  


1. Secure your emotional intelligence  

Before helping others, you must ensure that you have emotional intelligence as a leader if you want to foster a mentally healthy workplace. Ensure that you are taking care of yourself first so that you will have the time and energy to support colleagues. If you are not doing well, then how can you help others? It is critical to be open, honest, and venerable about your situation so that employees feel comfortable discussing theirs.  

2. Engage staff in open communication and Listen  

Suppose you want to understand and support your employees better. In that case, you need to ask them questions and be open to listening to their answers. If employees are hesitant to return to work, begin by having an open dialogue about why they are resistant and listening to their responses.  

3. Continual training for managers and leaders  

Begin training and equipping managers and team leaders with the necessary skills. As a leader, if you have not had sufficient training on coaching, mentoring, or supporting, look into ways to learn. At a base level, every manager should know what signs of poor mental health look like and how to have that conversation when signs arise. When it comes to mental health, companies should take a continual approach. The best practice is to keep learning new ways to support staff who may be struggling. There are several free resources out there and great websites to explore. 


Mental health is an attraction, improvement, and retention issue for any organization that is looking to find and keep talented people. Now more than ever these talented people are placing their mental health over other elements and value it more than a paycheck. The stress caused by the pandemic, compounded by the surprising return to work, has shifted the focus to more mental health support. Companies can work with workplace mental health experts to alleviate reluctance to return to work. Employees are more likely to seek assistance when they feel supported. Furthermore, when a workplace is psychologically healthy and safe, it can function properly. 

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