Human beings can't survive without food, shelter and other basic amenities. When you add globalisation to the mix, Amazon, smartphones, and cars have now become an essential part of our survival. In summary, we can't survive in the modern world without finances. And all of us, except for trust-fund babies and the insanely rich must work to earn it.
Whether you are a teacher, clerk, or administrator, where you work, what you do and how effectively you can do it influences the life you lead. Beyond the tangible, jobs provide most of us with a sense of purpose. But how many of us can say we feel safe at our workplace? For those who endure task-heavy, mentally draining jobs our daily lives could sometimes feel like a death sentence. On top of scheduling and racing to meet deadlines, some employees also face working in an unsafe, unhealthy and mentally taxing work environment.
Employers are responsible for the safety and welfare of employees while on the job. Various legislation, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act Chapter 88:08, the Industrial Relations Act Chapter 88:01 and the Maternity Protection Act Chapter 45:57 have been implemented to define employees' rights and offer a reasonable level of protection. Employees have access to an arsenal of tools that empowers them to lodge a complaint, advocate for their safety and even refuse work when there is imminent danger or unusual circumstances that may be hazardous or injurious to health or life.
Besides the obvious health and safety concerns in the workplace, employees now identify mental health as a serious concern. Fast-paced jobs frequently require employees to work beyond designated work hours and weekends, forcing them to sacrifice family time. Not only does this have devastating effects on one's personal life, but it can contribute to increased rates of depression and anxiety.
Generally, mental health isn't an easily broached topic, but studies show it can be linked to poor job performance and reduced productivity. For example, a survey conducted by the Center for Disease and Control found that depression interferes with a person's ability to complete physical job tasks about 20 per cent of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35 per cent of the time.
Employees who are depressed or suffer from bouts of anxiety as a result of work-related stress are less likely to perform at the required standard. According to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the loss of productivity resulting from depression and anxiety is estimated to cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year.
Mentally unsafe and toxic work environments leave some employees feeling burnt out, distressed and disenfranchised. In a 2019 piece titled, Mental Health in the Workplace, The WHO identified bullying and psychological harassment as well-known causes of work-related stress and mental health problems. In addition to poor communication and management practices, limited participation in decision-making, long or inflexible working hours and lack of team cohesion, this is a huge part of workplace culture.
The advent of smartphones and widespread interconnectivity has beckoned the age of digital presenteeism and has rendered an employee's right to disconnect obsolete. This double-edged sword has created a growing debate on after work hours' emails and whether this should be regarded as an acceptable workplace practice. In France, some laws grant employees the legal right to ignore work emails outside of working hours, and in Canada, some individual employers have adopted policies that limit work-related email communication after the close of the workday. Another interesting workplace policy used in the UK and other developed nations is the Time of in Lieu policy. This policy gives employee's time off to replace any overtime they have already worked. Employees earn this right when they work extra hours beyond their contractual obligation, allowing a certain degree of flexibility in the working arrangements, which can be extremely rewarding to the employee.
So, what can employers do to reasonably safeguard the mental health of their employees? For starters, ensure that up-to-date workplace policies address complaints procedures, staff entitlements, and resources that each employee can access. Also, employers should try to find a middle ground as it concerns an employee's right to disconnect. This can be achieved by opting for practical solutions like working from home or the flexible use of one's vacation leave or sick days to address mental exhaustion. Where possible, employers should provide resources to help staff achieve a healthy work-life balance and address work-related issues they might be facing.
When we think of health and safety at the workplace, mental health should be at the forefront of our minds. Without mental well-being, productivity and efficiency would become incredulous notions. So, let's do all that we can to create a safe and holistic work environment.