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Why Is Mental Health Key to Workplace Safety?

December 29, 2021
Workplace mental health

The issue of mental health has come to the forefront in light of the pandemic, and many experts are concerned about its relationship with workplace incidents and accidents. A recent National Safety Council Safety Congress & Expo event focused on this topic, and it was pointed out when employees are suffering, their employers can be at a disadvantage in certain cases. If they become aware that an employee seems distracted or they notice signs of unhealthy behaviors or mental issues, they frequently do not have the resources needed to address the problem, or the skills for managing it.

At the Expo, it was noted that studies have shown that three percent of employees account for nearly 22 percent of workplace accidents. Those accident-prone employees are 50 percent more likely to suffer serious accidents than other employees. However, although companies may very well fire these workers, being accident prone is usually a temporary condition, lasting from six to 12 months. Further, studies showed that these conditions are often caused by serious problems at work or home and can include pressures dealing with the pandemic, social and financial crises, and physical or emotional conditions. One of the participants said that employers must recognize the stressors that impact employees and how to manage the issues, adding that having a mental health strategy is critical because mental health conditions can drive poor outcomes at work that impact employees and their companies, including accidents, poor productivity, and other related problems.

Why Is Mental Health So Important in Workplaces?

Just like physical ailments, emotional ailments such as anxiety and depression can affect how employees perform their work, impacting how well they stay engaged with their responsibilities, their job productivity and performance, daily functioning, physical capabilities, and communications with colleagues. An employee suffering from depression can have decreased ability to compete physical tasks as much as 20 percent of the time; their cognitive performance can decrease by 35 percent. It is easy to see how this can lead to workplace accidents and marked decreases in productivity and efficiency that impact company bottom lines.

Since only 57 percent of employees who claim to have moderate depression, and 40 percent of those reporting severe depression, receive treatment, those who do not may be performing poorly at work. Depression and other mental illness are associated with higher rates of unemployment and disability as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) puts it all into perspective: Their research indicates that mental disorders such as anxiety and depression contribute to about $1 trillion in lost economic productivity globally. 

The numbers do not lie: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one out of every five working-age adults in the United States experiences some kind of significant mental issue. It is also important to note that mental illness stresses the body, and employees who suffer from emotional distress often also experience cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint disorders, lung conditions, diabetes, and other ailments. Since they may also be distracted by their problems much of the time, they may also be more prone to workplace accidents, as mentioned earlier.

How Do Employers Contribute to the Problem?

One of the main reasons why employers do not address employee mental health concerns is because of the stigma that is attached to mental health problems. A study by The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) revealed that less than half of employees who experience stress bad enough to interfere with their work do not discuss it with their employers. A large percentage feared that their supervisors would interpret the anxiety and stress as an unwillingness to perform their work; 31 percent thought that they would be labeled as weak, 22 percent worried that it would negatively impact their promotion opportunities, and 20 percent thought their concerns would not be taken seriously.

According to the WHO, employers may consciously or unconsciously contribute to the issue through:

  • A lack of communication with management and workers
  • Insufficient control over employees and their workspaces
  • Inadequate employee support systems, including a lack of flexible hours to help them manage anxiety and stress
  • Inadequate policies for managing health and safety
  • A failure to engage health and safety professionals in company decision-making

Other ways that employers contribute to employee mental health problems include:

  • Unrelenting, heavy workloads, unrealistic deadlines, and unsustainably high standards
  • Not letting employees participate in decision-making
  • Unclear tasks and conflicting objectives
  • Inflexible work hours, sick leave, and personal time off policies
  • Criticizing and punishing failure, not rewarding success
  • Taking over employees’ personal work areas
  • Little opportunity for job security or advancement

Additional factors that can contribute to an employee’s mental illness include workplaces that offer high personal safety risks and ignore harassment and bullying. Workplace environments that are unclean or unpleasant because they are overcrowded, have loud noise, uncomfortable workstations, and air pollution can also affect workers in very negative ways. Any of these factors can also create an environment that is not conducive to employees sharing their health concerns. 

The ADAA study reported that just four out of every 10 employees were offered any help from their employers and in most cases, it was just a referral to a stress management class or a mental health professional. It is likely that these employees also feel embarrassed because of the stigma and worry about word getting out about their condition. No one wants to be the focus of office gossip, but the truth is, a safe and healthy work environment is no place for a mental health stigma. Employees should feel comfortable and confident enough to talk about their mental health issues with their employees; this is especially important if they are seeking help. Safe workplaces ensure that all employees feel safe enough to communicate their needs when they need assistance.

What Can My Employer Do to Improve How Workplace Mental Health Is Handled?

Mental illness treatment does work and can lower absenteeism, increase productivity, and be good for business. If mental health care is not acknowledged in workplaces, employee quality life will not be as high. Experts advise treating it like other medical illnesses, without leveling any judgment on employees who need help whether the individuals are aware of their problems or not. Many are so used to living with their conditions that they are unaware that they are ill, that their work is being impacted, and/or that help is available. 

Companies can provide mental health self-assessment tools to all employees and offer subsidized or free clinical screenings for anxiety and depression. They can also offer self-management programs, counseling, and lifestyle coaching. Many employers offer low-cost health coverage for mental health counseling and depression treatments and offer their workers dedicated, quiet spaces to take breaks. Workshops and seminars on stress management and mindfulness are also helpful; videos, fliers, and brochures about the symptoms of poor mental health can be beneficial as well. It is also important to train managers and other staff members about the signs of mental illness and the steps to take to address the problem. 

The CDC also reported that 40 percent of employees surveyed claimed that their jobs were very or extremely stressful, 29 percent were very stressed, and 26 percent were burned out or stressed. To combat this problem, employees can be encouraged to discuss their job responsibilities and stress levels with supervisors. Oftentimes, an individual will be overworked and underpaid, which leads to hard-to-manage stress and anxiety. Unless they participate in frequent meetings to discuss their duties and concerns, managers might be completely unaware that the employee’s job responsibilities are contributing to their mental illness.


Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP, Help Employees Dealing with Mental Health Issues

You should not have to suffer at work if you are dealing with mental illness, whether your employer contributes to your condition or not. This difficult situation does not have to continue, because the caring, compassionate Cherry Hill workers’ compensation lawyers at Pietras Saracino Smith & Meeks, LLP, are available to help. Call us today at 856-761-3773 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients in Camden, Cinnaminson, Delran, Maple Shade, Pennsauken, and throughout South Jersey.

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