For years, businesses have addressed workplace safety by focusing on the physical workplace. They’ve taken actions like correcting for and improving seating, lighting, and repetitive movements. Some of these implementations were voluntary, while others were legal requirements or medical accommodations. The focus, though, addressed physical injury and typically did not consider the impacts of mental health at work. However, the mental health side is equally, if not more, important. Studies show that the physical work environment can have significant mental health impacts. Hours in front of a computer, for example, can increase incidents of depression and insomnia. We also know that when an employee is uncomfortable or in pain, their performance will suffer and there will be higher levels of absenteeism. With this knowledge, it’s a good business decision to invest in employee initiatives that cater to both physical and mental health at work.
In recent years, and especially over the past year, employee mental health has risen as a priority for many businesses. We know the changes caused by the pandemic on both the work and home fronts have created unprecedented levels of stress for many employees. Employees have moved their offices into their homes and spent many more hours in front of computer screens. Even those who have remained onsite have been forced to change how they do their work. Employers cannot assume that because employees are back at work that they are “fine.” They must continue to monitor and invest in employee mental health at work.
Employers should keep in mind the following connections between physical spaces and mental health to provide safe and healthy workplaces:
Monitor stress levels.
Stress is a normal part of everyday life and can be a positive influence on performance. However, if it becomes too much, the employee cannot fully function, which will negatively impact their work due to fatigue, insomnia, depression, or other mental illnesses. The stress of the pandemic is not gone simply because vaccines are available. Studies show that most Americans still have significant concerns about contracting COVID-19 due in part to the continuing uncertainty about variants adds to this. Going back to the “normal” workplace will often exacerbate this stress, not reduce it.
Improve physical spaces.
There is a connection between physical discomfort and mental health issues. Employers should monitor how physical workspaces are set up, including lighting, noise, temperature, and equipment, and adjust support employees’ needs for comfort and efficiency. It’s not a “one size fits all” approach, though. Workspaces will need to be tailored not only to the job but also to the individual employee. These physical changes can reduce stress and improve mental capacity and employee engagement.
Increase awareness of mental health at work.
Employee safety should be a visible priority within the organization. When employees know the company’s commitment, they can be proactive in asking for what they need to do their job well and feel good about themselves and the company. Employees should also have an easy-to-follow process of requesting resources to operate at their full productivity levels.
Employee physical and mental health at work should be a priority in every workplace. When you demonstrate a commitment to workers’ comfort by investing in the right equipment and properly structuring their role and environment, you’ll see an improvement in their engagement and performance.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general information. Do not view this article as legal advice. Talk with counsel familiar with your unique business needs before taking or refraining from any action.