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Mental health in the workplace, an asset for companies.

Updated: May 18

With the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations are becoming more concerned about their employees’ health. This crisis is finally an opportunity to take an interest in these issues, to become familiar with them, and eventually introduce a prevention policy in the company.

Firstly, it is essential to understand what mental health is through a common definition. Mental health is defined by the WHO (World Health Organisation) as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Mental health is therefore not only the absence of negative aspects but also the presence of positive elements. The WHO defines a healthy work environment as "one in which there isn’t only an absence of harmful conditions but, on the contrary, an abundance of factors favourable to health". Through this notion, we can observe two major objectives:

  • To improve the quality of life at work (main objective)

  • To protect and promote the safety, health, and well-being of employees.

One of the main scourges of employees is stress at work. It is defined as "a situation that is perceived by the individual as exceeding his or her resources and that may endanger his or her well-being." (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984). The requirements of the situation are too great compared to the resources available to the individual, and it is this imbalance that causes stress.

Needless to say, stress at work has a very negative impact on the individual. More specifically, it can lead to psychological (anxiety, rumination, errors, etc.), physical (cardiovascular diseases, immune deficiency, etc.), behavioural (flight, withdrawal, etc.) and interpersonal (irritability, aggressiveness, etc.) problems. All of this can affect the mental health of the employee and lead to depression, burn-out, bore-out, brown-out etc. This stress and unhappiness will also have repercussions on the company since it leads to a higher rate of absenteeism, and a reduction in the productivity and commitment of employees. The whole productivity of the company is at stake. Furthermore, the employer risks suffering from a poor brand image and reputation.

To avoid this, the labour market therefore has a real interest in promoting the mental health of employees.

How do we do this in practice?

The occupational health psychology seeks to understand the psychological processes involved in the problems of health at work amongst employees. We are therefore interested in the individual in his /her work environment. However, it is important to specify that the individual is to be understood as a "complex system". We all evolve with our beliefs, our personality, and our emotions. All these characteristics lead to a different reaction in the professional sphere for each individual. It is therefore not advisable to dissociate the individual from the employee.

There are two perspectives in occupational health psychology: to examine and understand what harms the employees’ health, but also to observe what promotes the well-being of employees.

There are three possible levels of intervention to reduce the risk of work-related stress:

  • Primary: Prevention

This is a diagnostic phase. The aim is to reduce occupational stress factors by acting at source on the work organisation, managerial styles, and working conditions. We will therefore identify the causes of potential dysfunction encountered within the organisation (psychosocial risks, situations of tension at work, etc.).

To prevent this, it is necessary to carry out regular audits. What is already in place within the company to limit the risks? What tools are used? Are employees and managers aware of these issues?

Talking about it and sharing knowledge is already a form of prevention. We can display awareness-raising posters in the premises about occupational illnesses or psycho-social risk factors, communicate with employees, have referents in terms of well-being at work, or even regularly send out quality of life at work questionnaires (such as a Happiness Survey).

It is also essential to create a pleasant and ergonomic working environment that is conducive to concentration. Rest areas can be set up. In addition to the premises, managers also have a major responsibility in the development of employees. Autonomy and trust, setting clear and achievable objectives, respect for private life, recognition... all these aspects are conducive to well-being at work.

  • Secondary: Limiting and correcting

Here, we seek to implement actions aimed at employees to manage situations of tension. We seek to limit the harm that is already present and/or its possible consequences. The idea is to give employees the tools to effectively fight stress or other risks, through coaching sessions (individual or collective). Cognitive-behavioural therapies (CBT) are widely used and adapted, and so is relaxation to reduce stress at a physiological level. The overall objective is for people to be able to act on their thought processes, and their emotional response. To do this, we break down the reactionary process: "What is the situation that causes stress in me," "How do I interpret it? "What emotions and behavioural reactions result from it? ".

  • Tertiary: Repair

The aim is to reduce distress by helping employees who are already suffering. We are talking about individualised support, where real care by a psychologist is necessary. A psychological support unit can be proposed in the event of a critical incident (significant unhappiness, aggression in the workplace, suicide of an employee, etc.).

Many psychosocial risk factors may be present within the company. Stress, harassment, discrimination, or any other form of violence will harm the individual. We all have a role to play in our organisations to limit or eliminate these factors.

For any question or other information, please contact Claire Beaurianne via cbeaurianne@greenfish.eu

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