Mental Health in the Workplace – Why we Should Talk About it

Mental Health

A lot of people automatically think of mental illness when they hear the words mental health. However, just like physical health, everyone has mental health. Mental health refers to an individual’s psychological and emotional well-being, whether it’s in a negative or positive state. With that being said, it’s important that employees maintain their mental health just as they would their physical health. When an individual feels they are coming down with a cold, they take precautions and certain measures to feel better. The same is the case for mental health – we must maintain it in order to be productive in the workplace.

Mental Health in the Workplace

According to¬†CMHA, 1 in 5 Canadians will have a diagnosed mental health problem at some point in their lives. Furthermore, 500,000 Canadians will be absent from work due to mental health issues. With mental health awareness on the rise, it’s important for employers to be aware of what they can and should do regarding employee’s mental health. In some instances, an employee may need an accommodation for their mental health in the workplace. Employers have a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities – mental and physical – which means modifying the work, work process or work environment to allow a worker with a disability to achieve the outcome of the job. Employers should develop an accommodation and return to work policies and procedures plan – this allows them to be consistent and fair with all employees. Click here to learn more about developing an accommodation and return to work policies and procedures plan.

Common Effects of Mental Health on Performance

Mental illness is often times referred to as the “invisible impairment”. It’s nearly impossible to tell when someone is suffering from mental illness, but its effects are real and shouldn’t be overlooked. When an employee’s mental health is not well, they are not able to do their best work. Some of the most common effects mental illness has on work performance include the following:

  • Decreased ability to plan and execute a process without structure or guidance
  • Short-term memory impairments
  • Auditory processing impairments
  • Decreased attention, problem solving and sequencing
  • Working memory impairments
  • Increased anxiety over work-performance

Return to Work

If an employee has been off work due to mental illness, there are multiple strategies that can increase probability of a successful return to work. It is important to focus on the employee as well as the environment they will be working in.

  • Consider Work Adjustments such as
    • Using memory strategies ( checklists, to do lists, applications and electronic systems for reminders)
    • Change the environment to reduce distractions ( noise cancelling headsets, work station away from traffic or booking meeting rooms for important report writing)
    • Adjusting workload to include work that is more difficult in high energy times
    • Providing time management strategies and tools
    • Delegate projects in smaller chunks
    • Provide supervisory touch points to keep support for work projects and problem solving
  • To get a better understanding of an employee’s functional capabilities, completing a functional cognitive assessment prior to the return to work process can assist the employer with knowing the employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Gowan Consulting offers these assessments, which can allow the Occupational Therapist to give sustainable recommendations for return to work, job match and accommodations.
  • By considering environmental and job factors that impact employee productivity, such as time pressures and exposure to emotional and confrontational situations, our Occupational Therapists can design a successful return to work program to meet each employee’s unique needs. Check out our webinars structured around accommodation and return to work to learn more!

To learn more about Mental Health and Return to Work, register for our 2-day workshop occurring in September 2018. Our Mental Health and Return to Work Workshop will allow participants to understand mental health causes and treatments and how to adequately support an employee with a mental health condition return to work and successfully stay at work. Click here to register and gain further information!


Works Cited

Gowan N (2016) Human Resources Guide to Managing Disability in the Workplace, 2nd edition, Carswell, Toronto.

Gowan, N (2018) Manager Mental Health Training Toolkit


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