It is estimated that 20 percent of the labour force will experience some form of mental health problems during their working lives. Across the globe, there has been observed trends of increasing absenteeism and early retirement rates due to mental health problems, such as stress and depression. Furthermore, it is estimated that every year, mental health problems cost employers an estimated 571 million dollars due to the large number of working days lost. Therefore, it is important for both employers and their employees to understand what causes mental health problems in the workplace, as well as what can be done to alleviate them.

What is Mental Health?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as, 'a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.

Mental Health vs Mental Illness

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, mental health and mental illness is not the same concept. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental illness as, 'a recognized, medically diagnosable illness that results in the significant impairment of an individual’s cognitive, affective, or relational abilities’. Therefore, everyone can have some level of mental health at any given time, whereas it is possible to be without mental illness.

Factors Influencing Mental Health in the Workplace

One of the key areas of daily life affecting mental health is the workplace. There are several key factors or psychological risks present in the workplace, which can negatively impact the mental health and well-being of employees. These are:

Eight Strategies to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental heath promotion as it relates to the workplace, is the creation of working conditions and environments that support the mental health of employees with added social and economical benefits. Below are eight strategies proposed by the Canadian Mental Health Association to promote mental health in the workplace:

  1. Promote work-life balance. Create a work environment where there is recognition of the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life.

  2. Encourage respectful and non-derogatory behaviours. Promote a work environment where employees are respectful and considerate in their interactions with each other, customers, as well as the general public.

  3. Allow continuous learning to foster employee growth and development. Create a work environment where employees receive encouragement and support in the development of their interpersonal, emotional and job skills.

  4. Encourage active employee participation, decision-making and engagement. Promote a work environment where employees are included in both discussions regarding how their work is done, as well as in important decision-making process. This is important because in a work environment where employees enjoy and feel connected to their work, they are motivated to do their job better.

  5. Define employees’ duties and responsibilities clearly. Create a work environment where employees know what they need to do and how their work contributes to the organization's success.

  6. Teach employees how to manage their workloads. Adopt a work environment where tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished successfully within the time available.

  7. Have conflict resolution practices in place. Foster a work environment where employee psychological safety is ensured and where co-workers and supervisors are supportive of employees’ psychological and mental health concerns, responding appropriately as needed.

  8. Recognize employees’ contributions effectively. Promote a work environment where there is appropriate acknowledgment and appreciation of employees’ efforts in a fair and timely manner.

Why Promote Mental Health in the Workplace?

Mental health can be promoted in workplaces by being incorporated into workplace health promotion programs. In addition to the mental health and wellness of employees, the benefits of mental health promotion include:

  • Improved productivity

  • Improved morale and employee satisfaction

  • Improved staff retention

  • Increased employee creativity

  • Increased loyalty of employees towards company

  • Higher recruitment levels

  • Reduced medical leave

  • Decreased staff turnover

  • Lower recruitment, training and health costs

  • Reduced number of workplace injuries and accidents

  • Less work time lost due to lower rates of absenteeism