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This past year, perhaps more than ever, we’ve been witnessing the impact our social environment plays in shaping our mental health. With the pandemic present, many of us have had our regular environments either change drastically or become eliminated altogether, and many of us have felt the effects.

The places and circumstances in which we live, work, and play are called social determinants of health, and despite all of the increased awareness about the importance of mental health, speaking out, and asking for help (Bell Let’s Talk day here in Canada being an example), we don’t pay enough attention to these determinants that cause mental health problems in the first place.

One of the most important social determinants is the workplace. Why? Because whether we like to admit it or not, it’s where we spend a LOT of time. The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work; or roughly a third of their life! Not only that, but there’s little employees can do to change their circumstances, since office settings and culture are greatly controlled by employers.

Work-related factors that can have a negative effect on our mental health include:

  • Lack of job security 
    • e.g., precarious contracts
  • Unhealthy working conditions 
    • e.g., poor air quality, lighting, ergonomics
  • Unhealthy social environment 
    • e.g., harassment, bullying
  • Excessive demands 
    • e.g., pace, amount, and duration of work
  • Low rewards 
    • e.g., wages, respect, meaning
  • Lack of control 
    • e.g., little input in how work processes are carried out
  • Lack of opportunities for self-expression and individual development at work
  • Inequality 
    • e.g., discrimination based on gender, race, age, etc.

Given how much time we spend in the workplace, then, it’s no surprise then that what happens at work has a trickle effect into the rest of our lives. So what can we do about it? There are a few key steps employers can start implementing to improve the situation, including increasing  employees’ sense of control, reducing demands and workloads to avoid burnout, and improving diversity and inclusion. By incorporating these elements into the office setting and culture, the World Health Organization  says employers can reduce the stressors that negatively impact mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, and increasing self-esteem, enjoyment, and productivity.

Bell Let’s Talk Day and other such initiatives, and the general movement towards managing stress and speaking openly about mental health struggles, has no doubt had a positive effect on many folks. However, I recommend employers and leaders in the workplace take steps towards implementing changes that could reduce the chances of significant stress occurring in the first place.

If you’re interested in introducing methods to improve the mental health of your team, send me a message. I’m always happy to deliver customized training to workplaces to help improve employee wellness.