Generally, one in five New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem this year, and more than 50% will go through mental distress or mental illness at some point in their lives.
We see in the media that, when it comes to men, they are generally less likely to talk about their mental health and can be reluctant to reach out for help or support. This is something that employers need to be alive to when considering the health and safety of all their employees.
It is important that employers monitor employees’ stress levels and encourage them to speak out if they are not coping. It is common for some employees to feel pressure to outperform others in the workplace, and, therefore, overload themselves with work. While some level of workplace stress is normal, if an employee is continually stressed with little time to recover, it can lead to burnout, fatigue, and/or depression. Employers should monitor employees for signs of stress and ensure that employees have sufficient time to recover from strenuous periods of work. This is particularly important in safety sensitive roles but also in other roles where higher stress levels can be prolonged, as employers can be liable for this if not dealt with appropriately.
In some industries, bullying type behaviour and rough play is accepted as “boys being boys”. It is common for some to laugh off this sort of behaviour in order to fit in with their peers, but actually feel bullied and anxious to attend work as a result. Once again, this can create a liability for the employer. Therefore, it is important that any suspected bullying behaviour is identified and addressed through disciplinary processes. In many instances, an investigation may be required. It is important that employers create a workplace culture where bullying and harassment is not tolerated and employees are encouraged to speak up if they, or others, are being bullied or harassed at work.
Employers should also consider introducing a health and safety wellness programme. This can look at whether an employee is healthy and fit enough to do their job, as well as whether they are performing their job safely. Issues like obesity, poor physical fitness and inadequate nutrition can make it harder for employees to carry out certain tasks in the workplace, and to perform their work effectively. An holistic approach that integrates occupational safety measures with these wellness initiatives, usually will then positively reflect in their work.
It’s a good start to include these issues in policies and procedures, and to make sure that the right process is used when these issues arise in the workplace.