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LARM Member News

Are you promoting a mentally healthy workplace?

Is the workplace culture in your municipality contributing to the employees' stress? Before the Covid 19 pandemic, people reported that workplace stress negatively impacted their mental health. Add the pressure of social distancing, grief, absenteeism, mask mandates, and social isolation to the everyday stress of dealing with the public and working under budget constraints, and stress levels can go through the roof for many employees. Leaders must factor in mental health when providing employees with a safe work environment.

A study by Mental Health America showed that more workers are absent from work due to stress and anxiety than due to physical illness or injury. Even though it may be easy to dismiss mental health as a personal issue or even a "weakness" problem, employers can no longer ignore the fact that mental well-being is a vital workplace factor. According to the Kaiser Foundation, the pandemic has contributed to increased incidences of depression, substance abuse, and suicide rates.

The first step in providing a psychologically safe workplace is to commit to a mentally healthy workplace culture. That culture includes leaders who are engaged with the employees, asking them about their work, listening attentively, and responding to their concerns. Leaders and supervisors should take the time to ask for employee input before making decisions. It's important to schedule regular staff meetings to receive feedback from staff rather than only dispense information.

A mentally healthy workplace fosters an atmosphere of safety so that employees can ask for help, give suggestions for improvement, and admit mistakes they've made without fearing the stigma of being weak or unable to work.

It's always been essential to provide education for employees on how to take care of themselves both physically and mentally. A healthy lifestyle of exercise and a nutritious diet has been proven to contribute to physical and mental well-being. There are numerous programs available to help support healthy lifestyles, including support groups for those who would like to quit smoking or have alcohol or drug abuse problems. Make sure there is ample opportunity for employees to utilize those programs.

Even psychologically healthy employees may find that they are suffering from bouts of depression resulting from the challenges of the pandemic. Most health insurance policies include mental health counseling benefits. Those counselors are available via online resources to be utilized by anyone who has Internet access. Encourage employees to use those resources. According to the National Safety Council, treatment for depression works 80% of the time. Many employees may be hiding their struggle with depression and may find that the problem increases over time without treatment. A psychologically safe workplace would make it as acceptable to utilize the help of a counselor as it would be to visit a doctor for a physical ailment.

It may be helpful to ask employees to regularly complete surveys about psychological safety and other mental health issues in the workplace. Use the information provided from these surveys to deal with problems such as bullying or discrimination that is affecting a safe workplace culture.

Don't put off making a mentally healthy workplace a priority in your municipality. Know that mental health is vitally important for the safety of your employees and, in turn, is a benefit to your community as a whole.