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We’re talking, now what?

January 25, 2023

Mental wellness is hardly a new concept. The term’s origins can be traced as far back as the 19th century, and it has been nearly than 30 years since Frasier Crane first ended his broadcast wishing us good mental health. So why does it feel like it is only recently that mental health discussions are everywhere, and what does this mean for workplaces?

The biggest reason is that the campaign to end the stigma associated with mental health issues has been largely successful. Conversations that were once taboo have found their way into the mainstream. In recent years, world class athletes have openly discussed stepping away from competition to prioritize their mental health, and even pop stars have ended tours citing similar reasons.

This change did not happen in a vacuum. It is part of a broader shift coinciding with societies reconciling the need to re-examine the systems that have left many disadvantaged and disenfranchised. These systems have faced added scrutiny since the COVID-19 pandemic caused many to question what had previously been accepted as ‘just the way things are’.

The induced stress and isolation of the pandemic also cause an explosion in reported mental health issues, the effects of which are still being felt today. It is not surprising that there has been a renewed focus on mental health in the workplace, and more employees are demanding better mental health support from their employers.

What can employers do to meet these demands?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so policies and practices that proactively address factors that commonly contribute to poor workplace mental health play a fundamental role in a comprehensive mental health strategy. Implementing the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace is an important step employers can take to remain proactive in this way. The standard identifies 13 common factors that support employees’ psychological health and safety, and sets out how employers can create systems and processes to ensure these factors are considered in every decision the organization makes.    

Mental health claims are often brought as part of a larger claim of workplace harassment. Policies that encourage respectful employee interactions can be an effective means at reducing instances of personal conflicts that lead to these claims.

When conflicts do arise, it is important that care is taken to manage the wellbeing of the affected employees. A workplace investigation is an inherently stressful process for the parties. Those effects can be exacerbated if the investigator and the process are not mindful of the wellbeing of those involved.

Other common causes of workplace mental health claims include employees feeling unrecognized, overworked, and uninvolved. Creating psychologically safe workplaces can empower employees to address these concerns within the organization before they contribute to poor mental health.

More now than ever, conversations about mental wellness are focusing on the impact of work on the self. As these discussions become more commonplace, organizations will need to continue to evaluate how they can support their employees in their pursuit of good mental health.