Being mentally healthy is just as important as being physically fit, especially at work. Unfortunately poor, toxic work environments,caused by discrimination, inequality, excessive workload, untimely salaries, high work pressure, low job control and job insecurity pose a risk to the mental health of so many workers.

In a concerning revelation from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2023 Work in America Survey, it has been reported that over one-fifth of workers suffer mental health harm due to toxic work environments.

The survey says 22% of employees find themselves in harmful conditions at work that directly affect their mental well-being. This issue appears to be more prominent in certain job roles, with customer service workers facing the brunt of the problem.

Customer service employees are seeing verbal abuse rates at 31%, which is notably higher compared to the 23% and 22% reported by manual labourers and office workers, respectively, the APA survey highlighted.

Physical violence is also a worrying occurrence, with manual labourers experiencing higher instances at 12%. This is in stark contrast to the 5% of office workers and 6% of customer service staff who face similar situations.

Discrimination and derogatory actions pose another serious concern. The findings show that 22% of workers observe discriminatory behaviours in their workplace, and 15% are victims themselves.

Furthermore, 28% have seen unpleasant remarks or jokes made about someone’s identity, and 19% have been subjected to such behaviour. With these statistics, there is a pressing need to take effective actions to prevent mental health risks at work, protect and promote mental health at work, and support workers with mental health conditions; and here's how to do that.

Make it normal to talk about mental health

Just like you’d talk about a project at work, we should be able to talk about mental well-being too. With more people feeling stressed or anxious after the pandemic, Borcherds believes workplace wellness programmes are key.

Teach and learn together

There’s a lot of things most people don’t know about mental health. Borcherds encourages businesses to learn and then teach their teams about mental health issues and treatments as well as ways to cope. Knowing more can take away some of the fear and help everyone feel safe.

Mind your words

The words we use can affect how people feel. “Think before you speak to avoid hurting someone who’s already struggling,” Borcherds added.

It’s brave to ask for help

If you’re going through a tough time, it’s more than okay to get support, and workplaces should offer help like counselling or someone to talk to. “Reaching out shows strength.”

Get the full support package

The Sanlam Umbrella Fund has started giving free sessions with psychologists to help members deal with stress and other mental health issues.

This step, as Nzwananai Shoniwa from Sanlam Corporate puts it, helps the workers and the company by reducing the number of days people take off because of stress.

Share your story

If you’re okay with it, open up to your co-workers about your mental health experience. Doing this can make everyone feel more connected and remind them they’re not alone.

Note that safe and healthy working environments are not only a fundamental right but are also more likely to minimize tension and conflicts at work and improve staff retention, work performance and productivity.

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