Become Healthier in the Workplace

May 22, 2019
Two work-life balance and mental health experts share their knowledge on how shop owners can start creating a healthier place for their employees to work- both in mental health awareness and wellbeing.

One in 5 adults have a mental health condition, according to Mental Health America. Mental illness can also increase the risk factor for other diseases including HIV, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to the World Health Organization.

The bottom line is that good mental health can be critical to the overall mental well-being of employees in the workplace.

Darcy Gruttadaro, director, Center for Workplace Mental Health with the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, says stress and environmental factors can impact mental health and having poor mental health can in return create a more stressful environment. She says there are three common mistakes workplaces make when it comes to a healthy environment include:

  • Not recognizing the importance of addressing mental health as part of overall health and wellbeing.

  • Creating robust workplace wellness programs without including mental health in the overall focus.

  • Not seeing the connection of stress, loneliness and environmental conditions to employee mental health, overall health and wellbeing.

Mental health issues can lead to problems in work quality because employees might miss work and be distracted on the job. As a result, a shop’s productivity might fall and then workplace culture becomes accusatory and blame-driven.

The best way to combat this? Create a culture where employees buy in.

People thrive when they feel connected to what’s important to them, Mary LoVerde, author and life balance strategist, says. If research shows that employee well-being also drives profits, then a new goal for shop operators should be to encourage mental health awareness and well-being in the workplace.

Gruttadaro realized when she worked at a law firm with a large healthcare practice and represented a hospital client with a psychiatric unit that there was a tremendous need to address mental health policy issues in the workplace.

She says a change to improve access to effective mental health care, end discriminatory practices in health plan coverage and expand the array of effective mental health services available for people who need them is crucial.

LoVerde and Gruttadaro share their knowledge for shop owners to take the step into creating a healthy workplace environment.  

“Leaders set the culture of the shop so it’s extremely important that they understand how to create a healthy work environment,” Gruttadaro says.

Reminder No. 1: Employees will support what they help to create.

It’s vital for a shop owner to ask what is important to the employee and ask what they want out of the work that they do, LoVerde says. Say the staff wants their work to have meaning. The management team can, in return, offer them matching funds when the team donates to a charity. If an employee donates $200 to the American Cancer Society, the shop owner can offer to match that and donate $200, as well.

 Leaders should learn more about how stress and environmental factors impact mental health to take preemptive steps to prevent mental health conditions whenever possible.

Gruttadara says one example of a business incorporating some of these healthy policies is New Brunswick Power. This organization and others that doing a good job are raising awareness and educating employees about mental health, improving access to services and supports and creating a mentally healthy culture, she says.

Reminder No. 2: Owners need to listen critically to the employee’s needs.

It’s time to get creative. Listen to what the employee wants and then try to accommodate this need, LoVerde says. Maybe the employee would like a staggered start to work because he or she stays up late at night. That employee is willing to work into late night hours but would like to come in later in the day.

Gruttadaro says operators should begin the healthy workplace conversation by explaining to the employee that mental health conditions are common and thus, people do not always get the help they need. Share the 10 common warning signs of mental health with staff.

“This creates a baseline of understanding,” she says. “The shop owner can then stress that if staff are experiencing any of these signs, it is important to get help early.”

And, stress that it is OK to seek help, and in doing so, the employee will not be negatively impacted in terms of job security or future opportunities for advancement.

10 Warning Signs of Mental Health Issues

These are ten warning signs of major mental illnesses that indicate it may be time to follow up with a mental health professional, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

  1. Dramatic sleep or appetite changes.

  2. Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions or depressed feelings.

  3. Loss of interest in social activities and social withdrawal.

  4. An unusual drop in functioning at work or social activities by having difficulty performing familiar tasks or quitting something.

  5. Problems with concentration, memory, logical thought and speech that are hard to explain.

  6. A heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch.

  7. Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity.

  8. Feeling disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings.

  9. Illogical thinking, which is unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers, that is typical of childhood in adults.

  10. A fear of others or a strong nervous feeling.

Reminder No. 3: Management can validate the data collected.

“Ask your staff in more than one way,” LoVerde says. Asking people anonymously might get different answers than if the team was asked about their well-being in the workplace during a circle group.

And, LoVerde recommends getting some employee leaders into the mix to help initiate these requests. Sometimes a staff member will be more likely to voice a concern to peers rather than to the leadership team. One employee leader can inquire with the group and then represent the entire group to the owner.

Anonymous surveys, a comment box or some sort of feedback is a good way for leaders to find out what issues their staff would like to address, Gruttadaro says.

Reminder No. 4: Staff need to see the workplace as a community.

Stop thinking of work as separate from outside life, LoVerde says. Instead, the work done should be intermixed with some outside life balance and vice versa.

“Humans are social beings,” LoVerde says.

By building this community, employers are more likely to attract new talent into their shop, she says.  Focusing on mental health and health awareness in the work space will set the shop apart from others and be a powerful retention tool against other competition for qualified workers.

While Gruttadaro says the Center for Workplace Mental Health is not aware of opportunities for management training on health in the workplace, she says there are programs available and multiple options to fit the specific needs of the shop.

For example, the center offers a program called Right Direction, a program for depression awareness and ICU for broader mental health conditions.

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