Have You Optimized Your Employees’ Work Environment?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Happy employees are productive employees. Are you doing all you can to enhance your employees’ work environment? Over 60% of recently surveyed consumers say that work is the top cause of stress in their lives. And increasing numbers of young workers suffer from so much stress that they have a mental health condition. Managers must balance the need to help their employees while they strive to achieve department goals. Improving the work environment is a step in the right direction.

Discrimination Charges Based on Anxiety Disorders are Increasing

The latest research shows that 7.5% of young adults have a diagnosed serious mental illness. In comparison, the diagnosed rate of mental illness for consumers over age 60 is only 2.7%. It’s possible that older consumers have a higher rate of mental illness but have never sought treatment.

Young adults, those between 18 and 25, are comfortable discussing their mental illnesses. They came of age in a supportive educational environment, and they expect similar support in their professional lives. If your organization doesn’t have a policy on how to accommodate employees with mental illness, it’s time to develop one. Employees expect support and when they don't get it, they'll leave or take legal action.

Lauren Weber, reporting for the Wall Street Journal, notes that Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now deals with hundreds of cases of discrimination based on anxiety and post-​traumatic stress disorders every year. Employers are trying to improve the work environment, but the bottom line is that “there is no one-​size-​fits-​all accommodation for mental-​health conditions.” Employers and managers should work on a case-​by-​case basis with employees to develop good solutions.

Improving Your Employees’ Work Environment

In addition to committing to finding individual solutions for employees who need them, check out your workplace overall. The modern workplace can increase anxiety for all employees, sometimes contributing to bad outcomes. The open office floor plan generates noise and distractions, making it hard to concentrate. People with anxiety may feel these distractions more acutely.

Encourage employees to use headphones while they’re working. These devices allow team members to complete important projects that require extended periods of uninterrupted time.

Meetings can be another source of anxiety and stress for some people. Instead of having your one-​on-​one meetings in your cubicle every week, suggest talking a walk. If your employees like the idea, they may look forward to these sessions as a way to break the monotony and to open up their creative abilities.

And then there are the group meetings. Some of your staff members may dread the task of presenting ideas to their colleagues. To reduce stress, try the now-​famous method employed by Jeff Bezos at Amazon. At the start of a group meeting, everyone reads a document that covers the important points to be discussed. Nobody is standing at the head of the room cleverly entertaining co-​workers with a presentation. Instead, attention is focused on the topic. After reading, everyone participates in a group discussion.

Make this be the year you commit to helping your employees who have mental health needs. And remember to examine which workplace practices contribute to stress and take concrete steps to  improve those conditions.