What is a healthy workplace? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO 2009), a healthy workplace is one where, “workers and managers collaborate to continually improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers and by doing this, sustain the productivity of the business”. As a consequence, mentally healthy workplaces are ones where employees enjoy participating, and where managers and fellow employees are open to each other’s needs, being flexible and supportive of each other.
“…workers and managers collaborate to continually improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers and by doing this, sustain the productivity of the busines…”
Definition of a healthy workplace
Having taken various definitions into account, WHO’s Healthy Workplace Framework defines the healthy workplace as having three facets:
- Within the healthy workplace, employee health is now generally assumed to incorporate the WHO definition of health (that is, physical, mental and social) and to encompass far more than merely the absence of physical disease.
- A healthy workplace, in the broadest sense, is also indicative of a healthy organisation from the point of view of how it functions and achieves its goals, because employee health and corporate health are inextricably interlinked.
- A healthy workplace must include health protection and health promotion.
“A healthy workplace must include health protection and health promotion.”
“…a healthy workplace should provide an open, accessible and accepting environment for people with differing backgrounds, demographics, skills and abilities.”
Diversity and inclusion support a mentally healthy workplace
The WHO Framework also reports on a particular healthy workplace theme as follows:
“Running through many articles and publications on healthy workplaces is the concept of inclusiveness or diversity. The discussion may have different foci – ethnicity, gender, disability – but the concept is the same: a healthy workplace should provide an open, accessible and accepting environment for people with differing backgrounds, demographics, skills and abilities. It should also ensure that disparities between groups of workers or difficulties affecting specific groups of workers are minimized or eliminated.”
So, how can employers create a mentally healthier workplace?”
First, take stock
For a start, recognise that you may already be taking some of the steps needed to maintain a mentally healthy workplace. Many of these actions are simply good business practice – especially supported by an increased awareness of workplace mental health in the aftermath of COVID-19. So, approach your plan to create or improve upon a mentally healthy workplace as you would any issue that arises within your business. For business success you need to:
“…approach your plan to create or improve upon a mentally healthy workplace as you would any issue that arises within your business.”
- understand the issue,
- evaluate what is already in place,
- create a realistic action plan,
- ensure adequate resources, and
- review the plan to consider its outcomes
This course of action will build on an existing foundation, while identifying any gaps or areas for improvement. Evaluation will reveal subtle changes that organisations of any size can make which are free or low-cost. A targeted, strategic plan will ensure that any investment made in time, money or other resources will be cost-effective. Be sure to involve your employees. By involving your employees in the process, you can share the responsibility with them – because everyone has a role in looking after their own mental health and creating a mentally healthy workplace. In doing so you will also increase their commitment to the process and the organisation.
“Find simple ways to give all employees more job control, even for employees in entry-level positions…”
2. Then implement your action plan to create a mentally healthy workplace. This may include:
- Making sure employees have reasonable workloads and some job control
A reasonable workload will allow employees to do their work to the best of their ability and to have the time to respond quickly to problems, as they are not already working at maximum capacity. Low job control is when an employee has little control over aspects of their work, including how and when a job is done. Find simple ways to give all employees more job control, even for employees in entry-level positions to see better employee motivation and productivity.
- Creating a more supportive work environment
Here are some ways to ways to develop an open and supportive community:
- Have an open door policy to encourage communication
- Hold regular team meetings
- Promote opportunities for social interaction
- Develop peer support programmes
- Develop mentoring programmes
- Reviewing your organisational values and the behaviours that go along with them.
To do so, ask the following questions:
- What do our values mean for us as a team?
- How can we make sure we’re acting in ways that match our values?
- Are any of the values more challenging for us? If so, why? What can we do about that?
- Are we good at encouraging each other to act this way?
- Is everyone clear about what is expected of them as an individual and as a team member to help achieve these results? If not, how can we overcome this?
- Establishing support structures for employees with mental health issues.
When employees feel comfortable talking to managers or colleagues about their mental health issues, support can be provided as early as possible. Here are some ways your workplace can encourage employees to open up about their mental health struggles:
- Create an informed workplace – educate employees on the facts about mental health
- Lead by example – leaders should speak openly about mental health
- Encourage understanding – invite people who have a mental illness story to share
- Promote zero tolerance to discrimination
- Be careful with language – choose words carefully and don’t undermine or reduce people to a label or their diagnosis
- Be inclusive – don’t shut people with mental illness out of conversations about work issues
- Challenge stereotypes – step in and say something when you here inappropriate names or descriptions of people with a mental illness
- Be supportive – treat people who have experienced mental illness with both dignity and respect
- Promote recovery – encourage employees to seek help and make it easy for them to stay at work
What are the benefits?
The benefits of a mentally healthy workplace can be seen at a range of levels – individual, organisational and financial. Mentally healthy environments are positive places where everyone feels supported and able to do their best work. A mentally healthy workplace:
- encourages employees to speak openly about mental health
- identifies and acts to reduce risks to employee mental health
- supports all employees, including those with mental health conditions
- views diversity as an organisational advantage
- has low staff turnover and sickness or stress leave
- enjoys high employee engagement and loyalty
- encourages personal and career development within the organisation
- benefits from employees who are productive members of a team
- Photo by Tara Winstead: https://www.pexels.com/photo/i-love-you-to-the-moon-and-back-8378733/