Checking-in on invisible Workplace Hazards
With regular check-ins and a commitment to worker-well-being, psychological hazards can be addressed and supported, increasing the health of workers and their general wellbeing.
“Mark, how’s today looking? Everything moving along smoothly? Any delays we should know about?”
Daily check-ins. We have them with our workers and teams. We check in on the status of projects, timelines and deliverables. We monitor progress, identify roadblocks and then we take the appropriate steps to get things up and running again.
While these check-ins are common when it comes to daily work duties, they do not always happen when it comes to mental health. Workplace priorities and pressures, like deadlines and meetings, seem to come first, or at least that is what we tell ourselves. Add in the to-do’s that occur outside of work, and mental health soon drops off the priority list.
Workplaces can see, and even measure, the toll that poor mental health can take on workers. When the well-being of workers is ignored, their mental health can decline, bringing productivity and morale along with it.
This domino effect is one reason why workplaces should consider creating formal health and wellness programs. By creating check-ins that are not just about projects and their deliverables, workplaces can gauge the status of their workers’ health and well-being too.
A check-in each day can help keep workplace stress at bay
Mental health can be impacted by both individual and environmental factors. Let’s go back to Mark, for example. Mark works Tuesday to Saturday. His shifts vary, but on most Saturdays, he finds himself missing his daughter’s soccer games. On top of that, Saturdays at the plant are one of the busiest days. He often finds himself working on the line with minimal contact with others. Everyone is so busy that sometimes a simple “hello” goes unsaid. The workload is also so demanding that Mark often does not have a chance to take his breaks, which he typically uses to eat lunch and call his daughter to see how the game went.
With the combination of long workdays, the emotional toll of missing time with his family and a demanding workload, Mark is feeling overwhelmed, but he is not comfortable telling his manager about what is bothering him. Instead, he pushes through at work and continues with the cycle of never feeling like he can keep up with family and work demands. Unfortunately, his manager does not notice that Mark is struggling, and as a result, does not think to check-in with him to see how he is doing. Because of the lack of communication, Mark’s stress levels will likely go unnoticed, and might become worse over time.
Thankfully, employers can help workers like Mark. They can be understanding and compassionate of an employee’s responsibilities that fall outside of the workday. They can also build a comprehensive workplace health and safety program, or even plan and promote a few fun workplace initiatives focused on well-being to help alleviate overall stress.
Employers can start by focusing on managing workloads and supporting healthy habits and encourage employees to take their earned breaks and “press pause”. To help manage workloads and support the development of healthy habits, workplace leaders can explore the following:
• Focus on workplace culture. Promote the balance of work, life, safety, health and wellness to create an enjoyable work environment, increased productivity, and happier workers who feel encouraged and rewarded for their efforts.
• Review the job design in the workplace. Providing employees with clear outlines, responsibilities of their role and variety in job tasks are ways to improve job design.
• Touch base with workers about their workload to offer understanding and support. Managers, supervisors and team leads can ensure duties and responsibilities have been clearly communicated and understood, and that the worker feels supported in their efforts to achieve their goals. Workplaces should be prepared to offer support, such as redistribution of tasks, if the worker requires support.
• Workplaces can also provide training for both managers and workers, so they know to recognize the importance of psychological health and safety hazards, and unhealthy work conditions. This training should include concrete ways for co-workers to recognize and talk about mental health issues, and ways to seek support.
• Host a weekly or monthly lunch where workers can step away from their duties and enjoy each other’s company. This is also a good opportunity for the employer to celebrate successes and milestones within the organization. These type of awards and events, no matter the size, can remind workers that they are valued.
• Start a fun-and-friendly walking club or a step challenge where workers are encouraged to use a portion of their break to get moving and exercise parts of their bodies that might be neglected throughout their workday.
Communication is a key part of building a healthy workplace. Make sure workers know your commitment to making their mental health a priority by developing a policy statement that is actively participated in by all levels of the organization.
Remember, workplace challenges are not always obvious. Psychological hazards like workplace stressors may not be easy to identify and may have negative impacts on workers’ mental health. With regular check-ins and a commitment to worker-well-being, psychological hazards can be addressed and supported, increasing the health of your workers, and your overall bottom line.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton contributed this article. CCOHS provides information, training, education, management systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and the prevention of injury and illness in the workplace.