Coping with Employee Mental Health Challenges

The mental health of one’s workforce is crucial to a productive organization. As manufacturing leaders, how can we address our employees’ emotional needs?

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the global corporate landscape, and its influence on the mental health of employees across all industries is clear. As the challenges and restrictions brought about by this crisis persist into their second year, workers forced to adapt to unfamiliar practices and environments are under constant stress from various personal and professional sources, which has allowed unhealthy habits to propagate. Manufacturing employers have a responsibility to fulfill the health and safety needs of their workforce in all areas, including psychologically, and should ensure that employees feel safe, comfortable, and confident no matter where they are or how they work. Leaders in this industry must learn to identify the root causes of poor mental health, understand how to address their employees’ psychological struggles, and take action to create and maintain emotionally-beneficial workplaces.

An individual’s mental health is a delicate subject, and should be approached with an appropriate level of reservation and contextual awareness. Employers concerned about the psychological states of their employees should avoid outright accusations or assertions — a worker must never be told that they are suffering from mental illness. Instead, leaders should reference topics directly related to their employee’s performance, and use these conversations to gain perspective on their doubts and worries. For example, one might say “I’ve noticed that you’ve seemed a bit preoccupied during meetings. Is everything alright?” — using this tone ensures that both parties stay within their professional boundaries, and acts as an excellent jumping-off point for the employee to describe their situation. Leaders should also take into consideration what they already know about their workers, and use that knowledge to inform their judgment. Is the employee a parent? What is their employment status? How do they interact with their co-workers? These insights are key to realizing an employee’s perspective without offending them.

One of the most important aspects of an employee’s mental health is their work environment. Leaders and managers should already have a thorough understanding of their team’s dynamic and co-operation, but performing a re-appraisal of existing work structures is always a good idea. Bullying, harassment, and discrimination between employees is one of the top causes of poor mental health in the workforce, and is a problem that leaders can take immediate action towards correcting. Employers should also ask themselves if they have properly allocated for their workers’ psychological needs. Can an employee with poor mental health access support expediently? In the same way that organizations designate funding for the physical demands of their workforce, so too should they provide appropriate finances for psychologists, mental health training, and other resources that promote healthy emotional mindsets. Addressing mental health challenges is an effort-intensive process, but is essential for keeping employees engaged, productive, and stable.

While the issues brought about by nearly two years of health concerns and societal unrest may seem insurmountable, employers have a duty to their organization and their labour force to keep their workplace safe and productive. The obstacles created by poor employee mental health may be difficult to overcome, but leaders in the manufacturing industry possess the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to keep their teams working effectively, regardless of any external or internal circumstance.

For more on addressing the mental health of employees, contact Craig Mannell, EMC’s Manufacturing Consortium Manager for Niagara, Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Owen Sound & Area. Attend EMC events frequently for knowledge and expertise crucial to leaders in the Canadian manufacturing industry.

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