Conversations around health, safety, and wellness among workers often focus mostly on physical factors, but the truth is that mental health is just as important—especially when it comes to the workplace. Mental health issues are incredibly pervasive, with at least one in five adults reporting experiencing some form of mental illness in 2016. At work, these challenges can lead to effects that are detrimental to both the employee and the employer. Common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety decrease morale and productivity on the job and make it more difficult for employees to remain engaged and focused on their tasks. Communication between managers and employees also suffers when employees experience mental illnesses.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health is more important for employers than ever. Before the pandemic began, a billion people worldwide lived with a mental health issue, and more than 264 million people experienced depression. The problem compounded during lockdowns and social distancing mandates, with mental health services almost disappearing in most places while the need for those services increased. The pandemic has made people feel more disconnected in general, prompting global health experts to predict that the consequences of the pandemic on mental health would linger around the world for years into the future.
Employers are certain to feel the effects. Research shows that mental health issues can prompt reductions in a person’s cognitive abilities (35% of the time) and physical coordination (20% of the time). In the coming years, mental health must become an essential facet of any workplace wellness program.
“Presenteeism, absenteeism, disengagement, disillusionment—they all have strong impacts on the individual, their teams, and their organizations.”
– Dr. Dani Kimlinger (CEO at MINES & Associates) on the DORN Injury Prevention Academy Podcast
How can employers help employees manage their mental health?
Mental health is a complex topic, subject to many influences and tied to numerous physical and environmental factors.
Provide pain relief therapies for work-related pain and discomfort
Pain is a major contributor to mental health issues among employees, so pain mitigation is one of the most effective ways an employer can help workers care for their mental health. The effects of pain go beyond daily discomfort; it can lead to fatigue, lack of focus, absenteeism, and reductions in work performance. That’s why pain mitigation and relief are a critical part of a functioning wellness program.
DORN’s data indicates that some 96% of participants in manual pain relief therapy programs reported improved morale. Having on-site providers available to employees does more than addressing the pain itself; it also demonstrates care and support for employees on the part of their employer, another important factor for maintaining morale and managing mental health issues. Hands-on pain mitigation can also improve flexibility and overall conditioning, making it less likely that workers will experience pain in the future.
Implement solutions to decrease employee fatigue
Fatigue is also linked closely with mental health issues. If employees are unable to achieve sufficient restful sleep, both their mental wellness and their work performance are likely to suffer. Conversely, mental health issues can also exacerbate fatigue, which in turn increases the risk of a work-related accident or injury and generally diminishes productivity.
To manage fatigue, employers can look to a range of solutions including:
- Wearable devices that can alert managers to fatigue
- Altered shifts and scheduling to encourage more time for rest
- Introduce fatigue management software
Train managers and supervisors to recognize potential mental health issues
Awareness of mental health issues, and a willingness to talk about them, can make all the difference in fostering a positive workplace culture. Managers should be thoroughly trained in spotting the signs of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and should know how to approach employees who show signs of struggling with their mental health. Management should also promote awareness of mental health and stress through organizational messaging and wellness plans that feature a strong mental health component.
Foster an open, communicative environment at work
Employees should be encouraged to talk about their mental health and the stress they experience both in and outside of work. Workers in all industries are experiencing greater levels of stress perhaps than ever before, and keeping quiet on these issues can worsen the problem and cause other disruptions to productivity. Organizations should provide employees with ways to handle their stress and communicate their problems proactively. Employers can also keep morale up by recognizing great performance and communicating regularly with employees about their wellness and safety.
America’s workforce is only just leaving a period of unprecedented stress, and in 2021, employees’ health and wellness will heavily depend on their ability to manage stress and care for their mental health. By thinking holistically about stress, pain, fatigue, and morale, employers can provide what their employees need to thrive this year and beyond.