How you can prevent poor mental health in the workplace

12.01.2022

by Erik Bekkåsen

Since 2019, there has been a shift in how we approach the topic of mental health. It started to become a more pressing matter as the pandemic unfolded, and today the subject is imperative for business growth and wellbeing. In this article, we in Azets have gathered what we consider to be some of the clearest signs of poor mental health, and some advice as to how you can help the people around you.

 

Changes of the last few years

One of the better things to come out of a very dark situation has been the understanding that if a job can be performed from home, the employee should have that option. A lot of people who prefer to be in peaceful and familiar environments greatly benefit from this, and feel that they spend their time being more productive. But for someone who thrives in a busy environment, the opposite may be the case. If either of these are made to perform their work in an unsuitable environment, poor mental health is a likely outcome. 

Another good thing is a steady investment in automation, which Azets has been relentlessly improving with our systems. Automation’s effect on mental health is that tedious tasks formerly done manually now can be taken care of with very little supervision. Effectively, both employer and employee can use their skills on more interesting tasks.

 

How does poor mental health happen?

Life is complicated, sometimes tough, and always a bit of a challenge. As we overcome obstacles, fail and succeed, we put our minds through emotional strains and sometimes don’t handle them all that well. 

Anyone can end up with poor mental health; it has nothing to do with weaknesses or our capabilities. But there are things we can do to prevent it, by being a helping hand for each other.

 

What are the signs to look out for?

While poor mental health can manifest in many ways, because we are all different, the more common afflictions are depression and anxiety, and these two can often go hand in hand. As an employer or colleague, there are things you can look out for when interacting with a colleague you worry about.

Some signs that maybe your colleague/employee needs help

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation and self confidence
  • Numbness of emotions
  • Withdraws from others
  • Averse to noisy and crowded environments due to overstimulation of the senses
  • General feelings of anxiousness (sometimes unexplained)
  • Fear of other people and social situations
  • Poor concentration and focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sleeping too little or too much

 

These are just some of the common ways poor mental health manifests, and it is different for everyone. Sometimes it is only part of the normal experience to have some sleepless nights or wanting to be alone for a bit. The problems begin when these symptoms become obstacles for your own happiness and quality of life. 

It is also important to keep in mind that someone with poor mental health might not show any of these symptoms at all, because they are actively putting on a mask to hide their struggle. These can be some of the most happy looking people you know. 

“Mental health problems are not necessarily visible. A lot of it happens on the inside. That is why we have to actually ask people to know for sure how they are doing. We have to be brave enough to talk about it.” - Odd Ivar Abusland, Adviser on work and mental health, NAV

 

Different environments for different people

A study by the University of Oslo reported early on in the pandemic of increased signs of depression and anxiety, from as much as 30.8 percent (Forskning.no). This is 3 times more than usual who then reports sadness, depression and problems with sleep. 

The study also measures how lonely some people felt when working from home. Here it was reported that younger people, women and the unemployed were more lonely than other groups. The same applied to those without children, low education, and people with a history of mental illness.

“Loneliness is not a mental illness in itself, but it can be a gateway to it.”

(Sverre Urnes Johnson, Associate Professor at the Institute of Psychology, University of Oslo)

Flexibility from the workplace and having the option to choose is what matters going forward. Some who are working from home without this being their preferred situation, might be in need of any social interaction you as an employer can arrange, even if it is a short video chat between colleagues to talk about the day. 

Ask your employees what would be helpful to them, and you have already taken a wonderful measure to help.

 

How can you help?

As an employer, there is so much you can do to help your employees.

  • Make sure the workplace has good lighting and a comfortable temperature. Keep in mind that a lot of people experience headaches from continuous exposure to overhead fluorescent lighting.
  • All employees should have the necessities at work to help them take care of physical health. This includes comfortable workwear and shoes, the opportunity to work in a seated position, and enough breaks to feel that they can recharge their batteries without interruptions.
  • Good balance between effort and reward. It is important to let your employees hear that they have done a good job, so that they can grow and develop positively with the role and the workplace.
  • Talk to your employees regularly. Ask how they are doing, and understand that everyone handles problems differently.
  • During the winter months, most people leave home in the dark and come home in the dark. Lack of exposure to daylight is a serious cause of winter depressions. To combat this, make sure that your employees have windows in their office, and/or have the option and time to go outside during breaks.
  • Studies show that the social environment at work is one of the leading factors for good mental health. Being social with your colleagues, and having a good relationship between employer and employee is vital.

 

The most important thing you can do as an employer is to listen and understand. Assisting a depressed or anxious employee with finding someone professional to talk to could go a long way. There is only so much you can do. Sometimes the problem has nothing to do with the workplace at all, but comes from outside of work. 

Having an open and friendly atmosphere based on trust can be just what they need to open up. Being able to talk to someone and show them that there is support for the things making them feel bad, could be what makes them realise that this is not just a rough patch, but something that could evolve into something even worse if it goes unattended for too long.

 

At Azets, we take mental health very seriously

We have long experience with assisting businesses in finding effective work environment measures. We can assist you as a leader, help with training, map out and give advice related to the work environment.

About Erik Bekkåsen

With more than 30 years’ experience from payroll and HR, Erik has led large departments in big international groups. During 16 years at Azets, he has worked to provide the best service and support for customer groups regarding payroll’s local laws and regulations. Since 2019, he has built a Business Area for payroll and HR services at Azets, directed at Nordic and global clients.