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Columbia Business Monthly

A holistic approach to addressing mental health in the workplace

By Mimi Meriwether
Director of Counseling and Accessibility Services, Columbia College

Work is useful for emotional and psychological well-being, yet a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health issues for employees. And when not managed, work-related stressors can contribute to decreased work productivity and motivation. These stressors can often lead to mental health conditions, which can have a significant impact on the bottom line of a business. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80% of adults with depression reported at least some difficulty with work, home, or social activities because of their depression symptoms. 

So how do employers create a healthy workplace where employees are engaged, motivated, and able to cope with stressors with less overall mental health concerns?

Today’s workforce faces numerous reasons for stress, including the economy, long commutes, dual income households, and new technological advancements that obscure the line between work and home. Furthermore, stress can be brought from home into work. While managers can’t shield employees from stressors outside of work, they can help mitigate pressure that emerges through work. 

There are potential risk factors for mental health that can be found in the work environment. Most risks relate to interactions between type of work, the organizational and managerial environment, the skills and competencies of employees, and the support available for employees to carry out their work. Risks decrease when organizations adopt initiatives and programs that promote overall employee health, and secondly, employees must view an organization as supporting a culture of health and well-being at work. 

This is a culture that adopts team cohesion and social support, which leads to less absenteeism, expanded productivity, and lower rates of staff turnover, and creates an environment where employees feel valued and find the work they’ve been hired to perform more meaningful. Employees are also less likely to experience job burnout, a state characterized by emotional exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness in the workplace, and chronic negative responses to stressful workplace conditions. 

Corporate wellness has progressed in recent years, and companies are encouraging employee wellness by adopting more holistic approaches that instill work-life balance and provide access to services that promote health awareness and active lifestyles. A company can provide resources assisting employees in their daily workplace and beyond, because well-being outside of work and performance at work are congruent in nature.  

Organizations should consider offering employee assistance programs to help staff resolve personal issues that negatively affect job performance. Mental health conditions, sleep problems, family and relationship concerns, substance use, and many other factors are preventable or modifiable, and can be addressed by these programs. 

In summary, wellness incentives should complement an organization’s culture and then employees will identify positively with their workplace and overall job engagement improves.

Mimi Meriwether, EdS, MA, LAC, LPC, is the director of Counseling and Accessibility Services at Columbia College.