Workplace mental health, part 2: Stress is only part of it

Improving the mental health environment of a workspace is not all about dealing with stress. “Work is never going to be stress-free,” says St. Thomas, Ont.-based workplace mental health consultant Kristy Cork. “So, if we focus only on stress, we are missing a big part of the issue.”

The upside of having mental health policies in place is that employee retention goes up, Cork said. She gave a seminar recently in front of the members of a restaurant association. There, she saw rubber bracelets being distributed that said, “Retention Is the New Cool.” The alternative, if your employees don’t outright quit, is “quiet quitting.” Cork defines this as an attitude in which the worker says, “I’m not going to work for the equivalent of 65 hours a week anymore. I’m only going to do what’s in my job description.”

With these kinds of challenges facing workers, and the companies that employ them, improving the environment to support your workers’ mental health is critical. “You cannot, in any workplace, prevent mental harm if you don’t know what your hazards are,” Cork said. “You have to do an assessment. You have to talk to people. You don’t start throwing darts at the wall hoping you’ll hit the problem.”

She says the best way to begin this process is through an employee survey. Cork has tracked her clients’ results and found out that, on average, only about 30 percent of employees answer “yes” to the question: “Does your employer promote a healthy work environment?”

Cork lists 10 major causes of work-related stress: heavy workload, changes within organizations, job insecurity, lack of autonomy, over-supervision, lack of proper resources, lack of equipment, few opportunities to be promoted, insufficient training, and long hours.