Challenge is Inevitable, Stress is Not: The Case for Including Mental Health Care in the Workplace

Challenge is Inevitable, Stress is Not: The Case for Including Mental Health Care in the Workplace

Workplace stress comes from a wide variety of circumstances and situations. It’s easy to see how an attorney speaking on the record or a surgeon making that first incision could feel a twinge of anxiety or a rush of anticipation. But just because we don’t all have someone’s life or freedom in our hands doesn’t make our work any less anxiety producing. Stress that comes from or interferes with your work can have a huge negative impact on your quality of life, not to mention the quality of your performance. Employees and business owners alike have much to gain from a renewed commitment to work environments that promote positive mental health.

To supervisors and employers:

The first step towards implementing positive mental health policies and a caring culture at work is to develop a nuanced understanding of the kinds of pressures your employees are facing. There are some common stress and anxiety triggers that are nearly universal to the workplace, like facing strict deadlines and meeting customer demands. Specific fields will also have their own concerns that can ratchet up the anxiety level or dial it down, depending on the stakes at hand. Deepening your understanding of the challenges your employees can expect to face in their work will make you better equipped to handle common stressors and recognize disproportionate reactions to stressful situations.

Second, it is important to have a written plan for assisting employees who have mental health concerns. This includes everything from creating opportunities for stress relief to professional mental health support. There are some companies that have nap rooms, meditation times, yoga classes directly after work, or ping-pong tables in the break room – all as efforts to help employees relieve stress and be more productive. It is also important for employees to know where and how to seek help for life-concerns that can have a negative impact on work performance, such as the anxiety and stress caused by caring for aging parents, children who are ill or acting out, depression experienced by the employee or a family member, or substance abuse. The more support an employee has access to and they more encouraged they are to use that assistance, the better they will perform.

If you suspect that one of your employees is experiencing stress above and beyond the typical reaction in a given situation, pay attention. Better yet, anticipate the unforeseen by training employees or human resources staff to recognize the early warning signs of deteriorating mental health and guide the staff person to appropriate, supportive programs. Although this kind of investment in your business’ infrastructure will not bring you a direct profit, you can be sure that happier workers make for a more productive and dependable labor force.

You shouldn’t take for granted that your workplace positively contributes to your employees’ mental health. A healthy work environment should be challenging and stimulating for your employees, but if you push them too hard or stretch people too thin you’ll find yourself with more turnover and less productivity than is optimal. With the right prevention and support systems in place, you can play a role in helping your employees live happier, more productive lives.

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About Constance Scharff PhD