Reprinted from the How’s Work? Life in the Workplace issue of Visions Journal, 2022, 17 (3), p. 4
March 2020. Little did we know that this month would usher in drastic changes in our working lives for the next two years, and beyond. The pandemic has had an unforeseeable and sizable impact not only on the global labour market, but also on the way we do work. With the arrival of the pandemic, many organizations were forced to quickly switch to a virtual environment. Daily routines were disrupted – whether it was shifting to working from home, dealing with pandemic restrictions, added stress in frontline work, or losing your job altogether, chances are, your work life changed in some way. Frontline workers, teachers, and others who interact with the public have dealt with not only pandemic restrictions, but an increase in harassment when those restrictions have been implemented. All of these stresses can have a toll on our mental health and well-being. It’s not difficult then, to understand that these sudden changes may have had a disproportionate impact on people already living with mental health or substance use concerns.
It is important for workers to find ways to take care of themselves and their mental health in the workplace. Many people have been experimenting to find what works best for them – whether it’s building in breaks during the day, getting fresh air daily, or setting firm boundaries around their work schedules to keep their work lives separate from their personal lives. Some employees prefer working from home, as it brings with it flexibility in scheduling, time saved on lengthy commutes, money saved on gas, transit, lunches and work wardrobes, and more. Yet for others, working from home can bring its fair share of difficulties – isolation, more time spent indoors, not having a conducive environment to work (for example, not having enough physical space or equipment, reliable internet, or a space free of distractions). For many others, working from home is simply not an option as they are must be physically present at their job.
But the onus of a mentally healthy workplace isn’t only on employees. It is just as important for employers to offer workplaces in which employees thrive and feel supported. Employers can do this in a variety of ways: ensure that employees are compensated fairly and are valued for the work they do, prioritize clear and timely communication, offer mental health support through health plans or employee assistance programs, take physical health concerns seriously, allow for flexibility due to life’s demands, and encourage social connectivity.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on workplace mental health in that it has reminded us of the importance of mentally healthy workplaces and employees. As we continue to ride the ups and downs of the pandemic, it’s important that these conversations continue.
About the author
Kamal Arora is Visions Editor and Leader of Health Promotion and Education at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division