You Can’t Afford To Overlook Mental Health And Workplace Safety

Our thoughts and emotional state largely dictate how we act. When you address mental health it can get to the root of many workplace safety problems.

Photo: TJ Scimone, founder and CEO of Slice, Inc.
Photo: TJ Scimone, founder and CEO of Slice, Inc.

Our thoughts and emotional state largely dictate how we act. When you address mental health it can get to the root of many workplace safety problems.

I recently shared why small safety details matter and stress and fatigue are common causes of workplace injuries. Both have a negative impact on mental well-being.
Employees with poor psychological health are easily distracted and less mindful. These employees are also the least focused, productive and create lower quality work.

For example, Forbes reports how “depression results in absenteeism…” And “… more than two-thirds of depressed millennials report that, while their symptoms may not be severe enough to keep them home, their capacity for quality work is greatly diminished even if they do manage to shamble into the office.”

As they shamble into the office, a lack of awareness leads to, say, overlooking and tripping over an object in a walkway. Trips-and-falls are common causes of workplace injuries. A distracted employee is less likely to pause and make sure they’re using proper form when lifting a heavy object. Stressed, exhausted workers frequently get sick. They miss work or come to work sick and infect their coworkers.


Workplace stress and fatigue

Common causes of workplace stress and fatigue include:


  • long hours

  • increased demands

  • bullying or harassment

  • poor leadership

  • changing technology; fear of becoming obsolete

  • financial or job insecurity

  • poor safety culture

  • insufficient breaks or movement

  • on-site violence or threat of violence


Most people don’t like sharing personal problems, especially with coworkers or management. Employees fear being ridiculed, overlooked for a promotion, or even fired for being perceived as weak or unstable. They may also fear no one will believe them—prevalent in cases of harassment or bullying—or retaliation.


Managing mental health in the workplace

To improve and address mental health at work, ensure your team is aware that they are welcome to share stress-inducing workplace problems, and that you’ll follow up with swift action. Employees must be able to trust the people they report to. Practice discretion and maintain employee anonymity when possible.


Photo: Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash
Photo: Nik Shuliahin, YFS Magazine

For external work stress, provide information on local counseling services and crisis centers. If your workplace insurance policy covers counseling, substance abuse, or other services that assist with improving mental health, share that information regularly and in your employee handbook.


Achtung, Baby!

Watch for indications that a team member is suffering from excessive stress or fatigue. Warning signs include:


  • frequent absences

  • depressed moods

  • angry or crying outbursts

  • high levels of anxiety

  • noticeable agitation

  • poor hygiene

  • a disheveled appearance

  • extreme changes in attitude


Pay special attention to employees who are in challenging situations (e.g., new parents, family illness, bereavement and impending divorce). Observe how employees interact–especially between more senior and junior employees.

While everyone should be respectful, senior level employees have a greater responsibility to lead and act appropriately. If you notice concerning dynamics, address them as quickly as possible. It may help to consult with a psychologist or counsellor to approach delicate situations.


Photo: Milada Vigerova, Unsplash
Photo: Milada Vigerova, YFS Magazine


Mental health and workplace sensitivities

Mental health in the workplace is a sensitive issue. Some employees may feel uncomfortable and downright defensive if you address it. Be mindful; start small.

Begin by highlighting a non-threatening subject like sleep. A good night’s sleep is key to being mentally sharp, which is important for workplace safety. From here, you can dive into more challenging territory.

Establish the connection between mental health and workplace safety through frequent but brief messaging, like safety moments; also called a safety minute, safety brief, or safety chat. Make it clear that sharing mental and emotional issues is as important as reporting physical concerns or injuries. Keep messaging consistent, with a goal to establish and maintain a clear-headed, respectful, focused, and aware workforce.


TJ Scimone is the founder and CEO of Slice, Inc. Since 2008 he’s made safety his top priority, creating a unique line of safer cutting tools that feature finger-friendly® blades, including box cutter blades and utility knife blades.Connect with @slicetweet on Twitter.


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