Mental health at work – how to understand it and manage it

Mental health is part of our well-being and general health. While in the past decades this type of health used to be mostly overlooked, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a significant change. The need for balance at work and home has become more apparent, and people became more aware of the importance of prioritizing their mental health needs.
Before 2020, well-being at work wasn’t necessarily a priority for companies and their employees. Back then, only 26% of employees considered their mental health negatively affected by work. Meanwhile, 6% of them were at risk of developing a major mental illness (e.g. depression, anxiety, addictions).
In comparison, in 2022, statistics show a greater concern for mental wellbeing in the work environment. 80% of young employees believe that the organization takes mental health issues seriously. 50% of them acknowledge greater openness to this matter, but do not feel policies are having an impact yet.
If you are looking for a more harmonious professional life that considers your mental well-being, this article will help you make more sense of what mental health at work entails. You’ll understand more about what influences your mental health, and how you can improve it.

What is mental health in the workplace?

The term „mental health” refers to several areas of our life. It might include how a person thinks, feels, and behaves in different situations to function optimally.
In a professional context, mental health implies the existence of positive thoughts about the workplace, a general state of well-being, and proactive behavior. When you interpret situations accurately, manage your emotions, and act accordingly, you have good mental health.
A healthy work environment is one in which both managers and those in an executive role contribute to creating a secure, optimal space for people to get the best results and thrive. Also, mental health at work is closely related to the feeling of safety that people experience in the work setting.
In other words, rigid hierarchies, competitive organizational culture, and fear of authority increase stress levels. This will translate into psychological difficulties: psychosomatic conditions, burnout syndrome, eating disorders, etc.

Why should companies support mental health in the workplace?

More and more companies are becoming concerned with psychological safety and mental health in the workplace.
They enjoy higher staff retention and improved productivity. With greater productivity comes a sense of one’s usefulness.
Promoting mental health in the organization includes benefits for both the employee and the employer. A study by the World Health Organization estimates that $1 invested in improving mental health brings $4 in terms of productivity and health.
Employees in a company concerned with mental health will perform better when they are heard and included. Workplace relationships also become more enjoyable, giving way to creativity and innovation.

Factors affecting mental health at work

To improve mental health at work, it is good to know what endangers it. We have created a list of 4 organizational factors that can harm well-being.

Too much workload

A high volume of work and an alert pace of work are among the main risk factors for the employees’ mental health. Too much work also imposes an unhealthy „speed” of work.
Adjusting the workload starts with a good prioritization of the tasks.
The urgent tasks should be prioritized, to make room for tasks that require more focus but are not as time-sensitive. An important skill is also to learn how to postpone those responsibilities that are neither important nor urgent.
In this way, you can also dose your resources (internal and external) for each task efficiently and reliably. Of course, an unimportant and less urgent task will create less stress than an urgent and important one. On the other hand, having pending tasks on the back of our heads without assessing priority may take a toll on our focus and create a great amount of stress.

Lack of control over own responsibilities / own role

Building a clear hierarchy in the company is vital to its good functioning. However, when this hierarchy is rigid and non-transparent it becomes a risk to mental health in the workplace.
To feel valued and respected at work, it is necessary to be able to organize your activity. By making decisions about your work, you will feel more confident and valued.
According to Gallup, only 1 in 10 employees feel they have a say in their work.
Once team members feel that their opinion matters in the organization, positive effects emerge. Staff turnover drops by 27% and security incidents by 40%. Productivity increases by 12%.

Harassment („mobbing” phenomenon)

We often hear about the phenomenon of bullying, usually in the school context. Its professional equivalent is called „mobbing”.
Mobbing involves repeatedly humiliating, harassing, and assaulting a person by colleagues or superiors.
Many times, victims of mobbing hide their suffering. They may think they just had a bad day or blame themselves. In addition, intimidation or threats can be used as a form of manipulation and blackmail.
Whether you are a victim of this type of bullying or witness it in your team, talk to someone you trust. There are workplace safety regulations that can protect you.

The imbalance between your work and personal life

Work-life balance is becoming a priority for new generations. Personal life and work are indeed interconnected. Stressors in each area can impact the other.
While separating them may work for the moment, it is not a good idea in the long run. Employees who feel they can get support for their personal lives are more loyal to the company and more engaged in their work.
The possibility of changing the schedule, working remotely, and limiting contact outside the work schedule promote mental health in the workplace.

How can you improve your mental health at work?

Below, you can find a list of best practices for mental health at work:

Set clear boundaries and communicate them

First, it’s important to define what compromises you’re willing to for your role and of course, what your availability is. Maybe you wish not to be contacted outside the working hours or to have a clearer set of responsibilities from your manager. Address your expectations openly.
A potential way to formulate this might be: „I need a better balance between work and personal life. To find this balance, I will limit my phone and email access outside of my schedule. I may not be available to respond, so we must have the necessary discussions by x o’clock.”

Request mental health benefits at work

Think of a list of benefits that would help you feel better about your work. It is recommended to leave aside the financial benefits Rather, focus on advantages that would improve your well-being. Once these benefits are identified, plan a discussion with your manager and address your expectation. Make sure to mention the reason why the benefits are important for you and how they can optimize your results.
Possible variants can be free subscriptions to the library, access to gyms, discount cards to the spa, etc.

Re-negotiate your salary

As you grow in the organization, it’s natural to be appreciated. When moving to a new position or taking on new responsibilities, don’t forget to discuss compensation as well. Although it’s still a sensitive topic, you can renegotiate your salary with the right attitude.
Stay focused on the value you bring to the company, the quality of your work, and the results. Also, check the possibilities of advancement in the future. If an immediate raise is not possible, discuss a time frame in which you would need to receive it.

The workplace occupies most of our active time. That’s why it’s worth getting informed about mental health at work.
This ensures not only greater well-being, but also better performance. Over time, you become more involved in your activity and healthier – physically, mentally, and emotionally.


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