- Workplace-related stress, which exacerbates mental health risks, is on the rise.
- While improvements are being made to combat stress at work, much more can and must be done.
- The future workplace can help to reduce stress and mental health problems and provide a healthier, happier and more productive environment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “healthier and safer workplaces can prevent at least 1.2 million deaths every year.”
Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, believes that “much more deaths and disability can be prevented through addressing major health threats at the workplace, such as stress, long working hours and shifts, sedentary work, climate sensitive diseases and workplace air pollution.” Furthermore, stress at the workplace exacerbates mental health risks.
Unfortunately, stress is on the rise.
A recent Korn Ferry survey found that nearly two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago. According to the survey, “there are many factors that cause increased stress levels at work, including keeping up with changes in technology, increased workloads, and interpersonal conflict.” Bosses, fear of losing jobs, and pressure to learn new skills also ranked high on the list.
The last two, fear of losing jobs and pressure to learn new skills, are two of the most mentioned issues related to the future of work.
As new technologies with increased capabilities emerge, people are now more afraid than ever that a robot will replace them and that they won’t have the necessary skills to be competitive in the new business world.
Parallel to this talk of the future of work is the discussion around wellness and mental health, especially as it relates to the workplace. While technology leads much of the discussion, experts continue to advocate for human-centered workplaces and environments, arguing that it’s still humans who are doing the majority of work.
The above is one of the reasons why the International Labor Organization (ILO) is calling for safer and healthier workplaces in the recent report “Work for a Brighter Future”, which was created by The ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work.
You might also be interested in: “Can Workplace Design Help Reduce Stress?”
Heads of Human Resources need, therefore, to start thinking about ways in which the physical workplace can help individuals better deal with, and manage, stress.
How to Address Mental Health in the Workplace
Despite calls and campaigns to de-stigmatize mental health in the workplace, the stigma is nonetheless prevalent. A recent report found that 67% of professionals worry their career options would be hurt if their workplace knew about their mental health issues. Though some headway has been made and this number has reportedly declined by 10% since 2014, there is still much that can be done. It’s important for companies to create a supportive environment around mental health and to make sure that employees have access to the necessary tools and resources to overcome mental health challenges.
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Encourage movement and exercise
Exercise has been proven to be an effective method in helping individuals reduce stress levels. Encouraging workers to move around the workplace and to exercise outside of work can go a long way towards tackling stress. Exercise releases endorphins, “the happy hormone”, and a short walk can help people break out of the routine and clear their minds, which can help when dealing with task-specific stress.
Suggested reading: “How Workplace Design can Help Combat Sedentary Behavior”
Provide healthy snacks
What we eat and drink greatly influences our mood. Providing healthy snacks in the workplace can help people nurture healthy habits and routines. Snacks can also be used to encourage people to move around simply by offering the snacks at specific times during the day, motivating people to leave their desks and stand up. Check out the best snacks to improve cognitive function in the workplace.
Encourage people to take a break
Movement and interrupting a person’s routine can be beneficial, even for those who are working under a deadline. Taking a break allows people to clear their minds and it often encourages interaction, which can also help them in finding solutions to a problem they had been long thinking about. To encourage people to take a break, think about offering quick meditation sessions or yoga classes during lunchtime, creating community areas, or offering nap-friendly areas.
On this note, make sure your workplace offers quiet or private areas where people can take a break and simply relax.
Allow for flexible and remote work arrangements
Sometimes the best place to work isn’t the workplace; sometimes people have a lot going on outside of work to the point where working from home or somewhere close to home can make a great difference. Offering flexible and remote work arrangements will empower people to better manage their stress levels, it can improve productivity, and it can also increase loyalty.
Read more about the future of work here.