Promoting Mental Health In The Workplace

A closer look at how the built environment affects our mental state.
  • Wellness has moved to the forefront of flexible workspace design and coworking communities
  • Workspace operators, designers, and architects are thinking about ways in which the built environment affects our mental state
  • There is much more that can be done to promote mental health in the workplace. This article examines recommended practices from the World Health Organization

Wellness is one of today’s most important workplace trends. Companies and flexible workspace operators are constantly seeking ways in which they can contribute to their members’ overall well-being. We’ve seen the rise of the Fitwel Certification and WELL Building Standard, we’ve seen operators incorporating yoga and meditation rooms, among others. Most recently, we’ve seen how reducing loneliness has become one of the core value propositions of coworking spaces.

We are slowly seeing an increasing focus on addressing mental health in the workplace. Companies, operators, designers, and architects are thinking about ways in which the built environment affects our mental state and the amenities and services that can help us achieve an optimal state of well-being.

However, there is much more that can be done to actively promote mental health in the workplace.

Liz Elam, Founder and Executive Director of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference, stated this year during the New York conference that “we have a loneliness epidemic, and we cannot just build a meditation room; we need to be more real about this, we need to address mental health.” Elam, together with Iris Kavanagh and Cat Johnson created CheckYoMate, a movement aimed at dismantling loneliness and destigmatizing mental illness in the coworking community.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states it this way: “Work affects a person’s mental health, while in turn an employee’s mental health affects the workplace.” The takeaway here is that there is an opportunity to improve our working environments by helping people cope.

“At any given time, 450 million people are suffering from some form of mental or brain disorder. In order of prevalence, 121 million people suffer from depression, 70 million from alcohol-related problems, 50 million from epilepsy, 37 million from Alzheimer’s disease and 24 million from schizophrenia (World Health Organization, 2001). Between 10 and 20 million people around the world have attempted suicide, with an estimated 815 000 people committing suicide each year (World Health Organization, 2002).”

Additional Mental Health at Work Facts

  • One in four americans say work is a source of anxiety
  • Depression is directly linked to a loss of productivity
  • Half of employees with anxiety say it interferes with coworker relationships
  • Only one in four employees with anxiety tell employers
  • Depression costs employers more than other health conditions
  • 3.5 percent of workers have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Depressed employees lose 27 work days per year
  • Four in five workers report poor work-life balance

Moreover, “in addition to the obvious suffering caused by mental disorders there is a hidden burden of stigma, discrimination, and human rights violations.”

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How to address mental health in the workplace

According to the WHO, the first step to address mental health in the workplace is to analyse mental health issues, the second one is to develop a policy, the third one is to develop strategies to implement the policy, and the fourth one is to implement and evaluate said policy.

For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on the third step: strategies to implement a policy that addresses mental health.

The WHO states that these strategies can be divided into five main categories:

  1. Increasing employee awareness of mental health issues
  2. Supporting employees at risk
  3. Providing treatment for employees with a mental health problem
  4. Changing the organization of work
  5. Reintegrating employees with a mental health problem into the workplace.

For coworking and flexible workspace operators seeking to address this topic in their spaces, strategies 1 and 2 might make the most sense due to the nature of these workspaces.

Increasing awareness can be done through the following:

  • distributing leaflets challenging the myths associated with mental illness;
  • running workshops on looking after emotional well-being;
  • putting up posters in the workplace on mental health issues;
  • training supervisors to understand mental health issues in the workplace;
  • sponsoring a staff social group to encourage the development of supportive environment in the workplace;
  • establishing a library of resources with books, videos, etc. on mental health issues that employees can borrow;
  • running team-building workshops.

Supporting those at risk

Some people are more at risk and vulnerable to mental health problems. This can be due to both individual and organizational factors (too much work, burnout, etc.) To support these people, the WHO recommends the following:

  • establishing a support group for working mothers;
  • improving the recognition of depression among employees with physical health problems;
  • providing support for those who are nearing retirement to make the transition easier;
  • providing counselling for employees who have been exposed to a stressful event;
  • introducing brief interventions for employees with hazardous drinking patterns;
  • enhancing social support networks for isolated workers.

Read the full WHO “Mental Health Policies And Programmes In The Workplace” guide here.