Mental Health in the Workplace


A full-time employee spends nearly a third of their time on the job. Pressures like looming deadlines, productivity concerns, upcoming reviews, or personality conflicts around the office can all create a high-stress environment that takes its toll on employees.

This kind of stress can have serious effects on an employee’s mental health, which in turn leads to diminished productivity, absenteeism, health problems, or leaving a job early. In truly tragic cases, some employees have harmed themselves or others due to overwhelming stress on the job.

While some workplaces are stressful by their nature, it’s easy for managers and HR to avoid creating a hostile work environment that can create, trigger, or exacerbate mental health problems in their staff. Following these tips will ensure a workplace is as emotionally healthy as possible.

Creating a Positive Environment

Perhaps the most important step to addressing mental health problems on the job is to proactively create a positive, supportive environment for employees, to head issues off at the pass. HR can take some simple steps to shape a company’s culture so all employees feel valued:

  • Screen employees. USAFact helps HR departments create great teams by screening prospective hires. It’s tempting to try to screen out employees that will react poorly to stress — but everyone has a breaking point. Often, the best option is to screen against employees who will create toxic work environments for other people.
  • Avoid creating toxic competition. A little friendly competition can be fun for everybody, and boost productivity. But when the stakes feel too high, emotions can run too hot, creating an unhealthy environment.
  • Make sure managers give positive feedback. Many managers only give criticism to their employees, and in some cases criticism is necessary. But helping managers give employees genuine positive feedback where appropriate will create an atmosphere of trust and camaraderie between management and staff.
  • Keep communication channels open. When managers and HR aren’t responsive to employee feedback or concerns, it’s far more difficult to identify and address problems. HR departments need to make sure employees know what resources are available to them, and that HR works for them, too.
  • Deal with problems. Too many workplaces ignore interpersonal problems or employees’ concerns about safety and comfort. Leaving aside the legal issues this creates, unaddressed problems unambiguously create a toxic work environment.

Spotting and Addressing Issues

While different employees will show different signs of mental or emotional issues on the job, common signs include:

  • decreased productivity and creativity
  • increased absenteeism
  • signs of alcohol or drug use
  • changes in personal appearance (including changes in weight or hygiene)
  • a significant change in attitude (for instance, sadness, irritability, or aggression)
  • withdrawal from social situations at work
  • a lower tolerance for frustration, failure, or delay

Keep the following tips in mind while addressing the problem:

  • Try to resolve things constructively. It’s frustrating to see diminished performance out of an employee who used to be stellar. While HR may need to let the employee go if the problem can’t be resolved, remember that the employee probably wants to change the situation, too. By addressing things early on and working with the employee, HR can create the most positive resolution possible.
  • Consider vacation time or a sabbatical. HR should encourage the employee to take some time off, especially if they have the time available. This can help them relax and recharge.
  • Refer them to mental health resources. Every HR office should have a list of local resources on hand. Review it regularly to make sure it’s current (and that any counselors listed still take whatever insurance the company provides).

Workplace stress can lead to serious mental health problems in employees, which have a negative effect on everyone. By screening out toxic employees, creating a supportive work environment, spotting mental health problems as they appear, and working constructively with employees to resolve problems, HR can keep employees happy and healthy.