5 things employers can do to take mental health in the workplace more seriously

Taking preventive measures and investing in positive mental health can impact productivity, company culture, and staff turnover.

5 things employers can do to take mental health in the workplace more seriously
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash
  • The mental health crisis will have a cumulative global impact of almost $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030.
  • Despite the previously held stigma, organizations of today are inclining towards advocation for better mental health among the workforce.
  • Businesses can take several actionable steps to promote mental well-being in the workplace.

    Despite the mental health awareness prevalent today, addressing it at the workplace still remains a taboo for many.

    A recent WHO-led study estimates that mental health disorders cost the global economy US$1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Rather alarming, isn't it?

    Workplace budgets for mental well-being usually concentrate on helping those who are going through an emotional crisis. However, it is just as important to focus on precautionary measures and building a mentally healthy workplace.

    Taking preventive measures and investing in positive mental health can impact productivity, company culture, and staff turnover. Here's how you can do so.

    1. Promoting awareness from the top down

    Changing previously held perceptions about mental health is a top-down process. It starts with the top management becoming advocates for improving mental health in the company.

    • Have the top executives share their experiences (or from their close ones) in meetings or staff interactions.
    • CEOs of organizations should advocate for mental wellness and promote a culture of acceptance and support. They should seek to normalize the mental health issues and address the stigma surrounding it.
    • The organization should be transparent about their support regarding such issues and work towards projecting vulnerability as a strength.

    2. Create an accepting culture

    Research suggests that workplace stressors which lead to burnout are a major reason for the declining mental health among employees. While work seems to be a contributing factor to mental illness, implementing the awareness for it would transform the company culture into a supportive one. Here's what you can do:

    • Set firm boundaries around availability. It might be a simple rule such as not answering work emails on weekends or while on holiday no work is to be done.
    • Encourage mindful breaks. Not only does it provide a reprieve from grueling work hours but it also allows employees to bond together.
    • Start conversations around mental health. It can be some simple steps such as conducting seminars around emotional well-being or simply providing counselors to talk to.

    3. Proper support

    Almost seven out of ten (69.1%) employees surveyed in a study said that they'd use a confidential mental health helpline provided by their employer while facing any mental health issues.

    This shows that employees are now more open to having discussions regarding their mental state. It is now in the hands of the employer to provide the appropriate support and assistance to the workforce in regard to their emotional well-being.

    • One way to do so is to implement an employee assistance program or mental health scheme that will help workers to actively monitor and manage their state of emotional health.
    • Similarly, encourage workers to participate in mental health screening tests. These free and anonymous tests are a great resource to evaluate where your emotional well-being is at.
    • Offer options through which your employees can prioritize their mental health like flexible working hours, work from home, or paid mental well-being days off.
    • Invest in employee engagement software. Causes of disengagement such as burnout, stress or alienation can be indicative of emotional turmoil in employees.

    4. Clearer information about support

    Once you have established a support system, you have to make it accessible to your workforce. That means that any employee who needs help concerning their mental state should know who to approach for it. Subsequently, the mental health scheme in your organization should be easy to use and easily understood by any employee in the company.

    5. Train the managers

    Managers are in the perfect position to assist—they have direct day-to-day contact with their team and also have direct contact with top management. Even the most basic of mental health training will equip managers to look out for signs of mental crisis and stress and also to create a supportive and inclusive environment.

    A study by The Lancet Psychiatry showed that after six months of providing mental health training, the managers' direct reports had an 18% reduction in work-related sick time off.

    Mental health training for managers should largely focus on:

    • An overview of the mental health disorders that employees are most likely to suffer from.
    • Recognizing the signs of poor mental health in employees.
    • The ability to actively listen and have conversations about mental health with their team.
    • A clear understanding of how mental health impacts performance.
    • Having clarity about the role they play in addressing the team's emotional well-being.
    • Managers must feel supported when it comes to their own mental health, in order to offer the required support to their team members.

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    A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

    An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

    Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
    Surprising Science
    • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
    • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
    • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

    The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

    Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

    "It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

    The Barry Arm Fjord

    Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

    Image source: Matt Zimmerman

    The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

    Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

    Image source: whrc.org

    There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

    The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

    "This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

    Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

    What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

    Moving slowly at first...

    Image source: whrc.org

    "The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

    The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

    Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

    Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

    While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

    Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

    How do you prepare for something like this?

    Image source: whrc.org

    The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

    "To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

    In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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