The Need for Companies to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has made it clear: companies must guarantee and attend to the psychological well-being of their employees. If they don't address these psychosocial risks, such as anxiety or stress, they'll be fined.
The Need for Companies to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 31 December, 2022

Detecting and addressing the psychological discomfort of employees should be an objective in any organization. For example, the psychosocial risks derived from a worker experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression associated with mobbing have a high cost, both in human and economic terms. It can cause unhappiness, sick leave, increased risk of accidents, and low productivity, among others. For this reason, it’s time that companies addressed the issue of mental health in the workplace,

However, it seems that we’re still leaving the psychological aspect in respect of work in the background. Production matters more than human needs, as does reaching objectives and valuing technological aspects. This leads to the perception that, often, working life isn’t always compatible with good mental health.

Fortunately, many of these realities are now changing. Today, there are work inspectors to assess psychological factors, as it’s understood that psychosocial risks are also occupational risks.

The European Agency for Occupational Safety and Health has stipulated that, from now on, companies will have to address this aspect. Otherwise, they’ll be imposed with high fines.

This is a revolutionary change that could mean a great advance in our social fabric.

Detecting the psychological discomfort of employees: a neglected objective

Many will view the above news with skepticism. After all, the fact that occupational risk technicians are now obliged to attend to, prevent, and detect problems such as stress or anxiety may be impossible or merely a pipe dream for some.

Up until now, occupational hazards were understood to be factors associated with electrical dangers, fires, explosions, contamination, falls, extreme temperatures, etc. However, it was forgotten (or consciously overlooked) that the regulations regarding occupational hazards should also include addressing psychological variables. Indeed, it’s not enough to ensure that a department has an adequate number of recently tested fire extinguishers.

A work environment also affects the mental health of the employee.

Psychosocial factors have long been stigmatized

Detecting the psychological discomfort of employees involves analyzing the psychosocial factors of the organization. In other words, it’s essential to attend to all the conditions in an individual’s workplace that may affect their mental well-being. As a rule, the following areas must be taken into account.

  • Stress.
  • Mental load and fatigue.
  • Job dissatisfaction due to schedules, organization, salaries, etc.
  • Demotivation linked to the worker’s feelings of dissatisfaction.
  • Contradictory demands and lack of clarity in their responsibilities and tasks.
  • Poor organization. This generates insecurity in the worker.
  • Interpersonal problems. For instance, mobbing, arguments, discrimination, conflict, etc.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work claims that more than half of Europeans consider stress to be the main problem in any work environment. In the long term, this translates into physical and mental illnesses. However, mental health continues to be a stigma.

According to a study carried out at the University of Albany (USA) by Dr. Michael T. Ford, in these situations, many workers feel a certain sense of injustice and abandonment.

Like many other issues related to mental illness, stress and anxiety aren’t taken into account. In fact, they’re stigmatized and organizations don’t consider mental health to be a problem. If an employee suffers psychological discomfort, the problem is theirs, it’s never the ’cause-effect’ of the company itself.

Action is required to address mental health issues in the workplace

The European initiative to force companies to detect the psychological discomfort of employees is good news. But there’s something obvious that must be added. It’s useless to apply tests to workers to assess psychosocial aspects if changes aren’t produced afterward.

Therefore, if it’s detected that 70 percent of a workforce shows high levels of stress, it’s not enough just to know it. Action must be taken. Because an environment with a high load of psychological exhaustion translates into low performance. It also leads to something far more important: possible accidents, cardiovascular or musculoskeletal problems, and even more mental problems.

Stress is the substrate of all psychosocial problems. It arises whenever the demands placed on us are greater than our ability to cope with them. That said, this is the eternal leitmotiv in many organizations. Indeed, not all companies are willing to adapt their working conditions to the resources and conditions of their employees.

How to prevent psychosocial problems

Job stress is little more than a stigma. If it’s suffered, it tends to be seen as the individual’s problem, due to the fact that they don’t know how to adapt to the conditions of their job.

It’s crucial to keep one detail in mind: attention to work stress by a company isn’t only a moral obligation, it’s a legal imperative that the employer must comply with. In Europe, it’s regulated by the Framework Directive 89/391/CEE.

Therefore, when it comes to preventing psychosocial problems, it’s not enough merely to detect the psychological discomfort of employees. Mechanisms must be put in place so that the problem doesn’t reach extreme proportions. Employers are obliged to guarantee the correct working conditions in which their workers’ mental health is attended to.

However, workers must also learn techniques and strategies to mediate their psychological well-being at work. Facing challenges flexibly, having good emotional intelligence skills, and managing everyday stress is also of paramount importance. In fact, it’s a challenge for which everyone must take responsibility, bosses and employees alike.

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  • Robbins, J. M., Ford, M. T., & Tetrick, L. E. (2012). Perceived unfairness and employee health: A meta-analytic integration. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(2), 235-272. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025408

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.