There has been a lot said and written about healthy workplaces but most of the work in this area has focused on physical health and well-being. Perhaps this is an after-shoot of the health and safety focus of the past and this work was certainly necessary and important to move us forward. But now that focus has shifted somewhat and mental well-being is also on many organization’s to-do lists.
One subset of this work deals with what some people call creating a psychologically healthy workplace. What does that mean? To most people and organizations it means having a workplace that is free of violence, bullying and harassment. But a broader vision moves past these surface behaviours into arbitrary decision making, isolation or exclusion, and things like forcing extra work as ways in which a workplace can be psychologically unhealthy and thereby lead to increased stress and even more problems.
Stress may be inherent in our modern society but do we really need extra stress at work? Not when 2/3 of all workers in Canada say that work already has a significant impact on their stress levels. And the cost of all this stress is adding up from increased sick leave and disability benefits to loss of production and productivity. By focusing on this and other aspects of a healthy workplace employers may start to see their share of over $50 billion in year in health and absence related costs.
So what can be done to create a psychologically healthy workplace? A lot, actually. And the more actions that are taken the greater effect that they have. Most experts suggest a program that includes employee involvement and suggestions, support for work-life balance initiatives like flexible hours or teleworking and more investments in employee and leadership development. I addition to these approaches it is also important to not forget the basics of good health and nutrition and any programs that help employees to be more physically fit will also help them psychologically.
There are many good reasons to make having a psychologically healthy workplace an organizational goal. There are of course the financial and productivity aspects but there is also a moral or ethical issue here. If employees are willing to commit twenty, thirty or even more years to an organization doesn’t the employer have an obligation to help them stay healthy and safe at work? I think so.
This post first appeared on my blog at www.jobs.ca
Mike Martin is a writer and consultant and author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People.
He is also the author of The Walker on the Cape, a Sgt. Windflower mystery.