A quarter of all people in Ireland will experience poor mental health in their lifetime – and in many cases, mental health issues are directly related to the workplace, working environment and workplace tasks. Organisations must therefore understand and support employee health as part of an effective occupational health and safety (OH&S) programme.
If you want to support mental health in the workplace, ISO 45001 is a key resource. It’s the international standard – developed by the International Organization for Standardization – that describes best practices for occupational health and safety, and it includes guidance that applies to mental wellbeing support within the workplace.
Supporting employees with mental health challenges
Mental health is an increasingly critical topic in our personal and professional lives and plays a key role in environmental, social and governance activities for businesses.
Workplace activities can be a cause for mental health issues, and organisations need to take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm to the mental wellbeing of employees, customers and others. This can include conducting OH&S workplace risk assessments, conducting regular reviews with workers on the working environment, and putting in place support programmes such as mental health telephone support lines to provide assistance to employees.
Some of the most common mental issues that people experience that are linked to work include:
Each of these conditions can have a serious impact on employee morale, teamwork and productivity, which could negatively affect overall business performance which makes supporting mental health in the workplace a key ESG priority.
Workers who experience these problems may be unwilling to disclose them to employers through fear of discrimination and may be unwilling or unable to seek professional support for their condition.
Organisations need to promote good mental health and create an environment that supports employees as part of an effective OH&S strategy. Employees should be able to highlight issues that result in stress and other mental health issues, such as workload, relationships with other employees and the working environment.
Supporting mental health in the workplace
Under the Employment Equality Act 2015, Irish businesses have a legal obligation to protect their employees’ health and welfare, including their mental health. As such, organisations must ensure that employees are protected in the workplace and take reasonable precautions to identify health concerns. Where necessary, they should encourage staff to speak up and get any support they need.
You can get started with free mental health support services, but you should also consider certifying to ISO 45001. The international standard contains best practices for implementing an OH&S management system.
Although the framework doesn’t mention specific issues that employees might face, such as mental health, it promotes a proactive approach to risk prevention that encompasses a range of health issues.
How does ISO 45001 support mental health at work?
You could be forgiven for thinking that OH&S focuses on things such as physical hazards and good hygiene rather than mental health. However, its best practices encompass anything that can negatively affect employees’ well-being.
ISO 45001 contains several clauses where mental health considerations apply.
Clause 2.4: Understanding the Needs and Expectations of Interested Parties
One of the first things organisations must do when implementing ISO 45001 is to understand the health risks associated with their practices. Anyone who is affected by, or who affects, the organisation’s practices is an interested party.
As part of this clause, you must recognise the mental health needs of employees. This includes the ways your operations might negatively affect their health, as well as the challenges they create.
Clause 18.104.22.168: Hazard Identification
To address and improve mental health in the workplace, your organisation must identify specific problems that might foster a negative environment. This can include routine and non-routine activities and situations, including hazards that arise from physical conditions, as well as human factors.
For instance, do you have a stressful work atmosphere with tight deadlines and uncooperative managers? Is the office welcoming, with basic needs being met?
Clause 6.2: OH&S Objectives and Planning
A key performance indicator of your OH&S management system should be to improve the mental health of interested parties. To achieve this, you need to create an actionable plan, and this is where clause 6.2 of ISO 45001 helps.
It requires you to create plans for each of your OH&S goals. This will mean setting measurable targets, naming any relevant resources and establishing timeframes to complete actions.
Benefits of ISO 45001 certification
Organisations that want to focus on employee mental health should certify to ISO 45001. The framework standardises OH&S in the workplace and provides a holistic approach to employees’ health and well-being.
Supporting mental health in the workplace is not only a legal obligation; it can benefit your business in a variety of ways, with potential productivity and cost benefits such as:
Enhanced employer brand
Improved employee morale
Higher employee retention and loyalty
Reduced costs associated with sickness
Longterm culture of positive change
Decreased risks through hazard identification
Supporting mental health in the workplace – creating positive change
By achieving ISO 45001 certification, you can build an OH&S management system that’s tailored to your organisation’s needs. You’ll generate long-term, positive change, meet government requirements and foster a strong workplace culture.