The importance of taking care of mental health at work

During 2021, according to Social Security affiliation data, 30,000 professionals resigned from their jobs voluntarily. And, in fact, it is estimated that, over the course of this year, 27% of workers intend to leave their jobs, mainly for mental health reasons.

We all spend many hours in the workplace and it is important to take care of mental health in that environment, as it is one of the main tools of the job and has an impact on the company’s results.

To learn a little more about the importance of taking care of mental health at work, we talked to Ms. Olga Albaladejo Juárez, a specialist in Psychology at Consulta de Psicología Olga Albaladejo.

Why is it important to take care of mental health at work?

Taking care of mental health at work is as important as taking care of physical health. If a person is not physically well, he or she cannot work, or at least will not be able to provide a full and efficient performance. The same is true of mental health.

The problem with mental health is that it is not questioned when it is present and it is hidden when it is not present because of fear, shame, ignorance… Additionally, it is important to remember that health is not only the absence of disease, but the complete state of physical, mental and social well-being.

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What factors can lead to the deterioration of mental health in the workplace?

People are a unit and everything that happens to us affects the different spheres of our lives. There is no univocal and directional relationship between a stressor and a response applicable to all people. The same circumstances that may make one person feel stress may make another feel anger, helplessness or indifference. Therefore, any generalization must then be transferred to the individual level.

In addition, we must consider that we are at a change of stage. The need for teleworking is now closed and many people begin to return to work; most of them, however, with different patterns, and others will remain definitively in teleworking. Whatever the circumstance, it can be a stressor depending on the vital conditioning factors. In consultation there are people anxious about returning to the office and others depressed about not doing so.

In general, the changes are “attacks” for the balance and the mental health, and more in particular, if they are not chosen.

Overwork, demands for results perceived as exaggerated or disproportionate, lack of resources to meet objectives, mistreatment by colleagues or superiors, lack of motivation or enjoyment of the work being done, lack of rewards or treatment perceived as unfair: these are just some examples of the factors that can unbalance our mental health, especially if they are sustained over time and we perceive that we do not have the tools to manage them.

What are the main psychological problems affecting workers?

The psychological problems that affect the general population are the same as those that manifest themselves at work, with which, moreover, up to 50% of the mental health problems of the working population in Spain are related. In general, the most prevalent are anxiety and depression, which have been increasing exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic.

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On the other hand, chronic stress at work leads to burn-out syndrome, which is now recognized by the WHO. Without pretending to be too technical, it combines mental exhaustion, depersonalization, mental distance from work, negative feelings towards work and diminished professional efficiency.

Has the pandemic aggravated these problems?

Undoubtedly. As I mentioned before, not only have mental problems and pathologies increased by more than 25%, but other causes or triggers of mental problems have appeared, such as teleworking, the change of work dynamics, burn out in many professions such as health services; or, on the other hand, the temporary or permanent loss of work, or the need to accept lower paid jobs due to the generalized drop in salaries.

Let us also remember that the person with mental problems caused by personal or family situations will be the same person who goes, or does not go, to his or her job. The pandemic and confinement have generated new problems such as fear of contagion, have aggravated pre-existing family problems, have unbalanced the normal development of children and adolescents, and have made the health problems of our elders progress more rapidly, all of which pose a constant challenge to the mental and emotional balance of employees and employers in the performance of their work.

The role of companies in contributing to the psychological well-being of their employees in the work environment

Companies are responsible for providing an environment where negative psychological impact is minimized and well-being is enhanced. They are the first concerned by the economic loss caused by mental illnesses declared as sick leave and those not declared in the form of absenteeism or loss of efficiency and performance.

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They are increasingly aware of this and we find departments of happiness or well-being and even companies, still rare, that hire us to provide psychological support to employees who need it.

However, there is still a long way to go before there are real programs to promote mental health, beyond work-life balance, nutrition, physical exercise or health insurance. Training in prevention and protocols for the detection of mental health problems and appropriate referral are needed. Also for the reintegration into work of people returning from mental health leave or from a serious illness with clear repercussions on psychological health.

Strategies that companies can follow to improve the mental health of their workers.

According to Ms. Olga Albaladejo Juárez, it is important for the company:

  • Don’t just say, but make your employees feel that their mental health is as important as their physical health. Do not discriminate against those who take leave due to anxiety, stress or depression.
  • Include psychological help in their insurance or social benefits and/or be willing to subsidize it to ensure a speedy recovery of the employee.
  • Consider including children and partners in psychological support.
  • That they promote respect and care for people above the achievement of objectives. In this way, they will find that they increase their profitability and the commitment of their employees.
  • And that they listen to each person individually, because not all work-life balance or motivation measures work for everyone. Respect for individuality is sure to become a form of organizational mental health as well.