Though roughly one in five U.S. adults lives with mental illness, the highest rates of mental health issues have been reported by surveyed employees working in manufacturing, retail, and food and beverage settings. Researchers believe the nature of industrial or public-facing jobs can lead to a decline in the mental wellbeing of employees working in these roles.
According to the “Mind the Workplace Survey,” linked above, employees in the industrial workplace are more likely to report low levels of support from their coworkers and supervisors, increased feelings of isolation, and higher rates of workplace stress (as well as its consequences). Further, researchers have determined that employees who report these experiences at their place of work are more likely to experience poor mental health, regardless of their position or their work environment.
While all employees can experience poor mental health at work, it’s especially important to protect those who are most susceptible to these health issues. Whether you work on the ground floor, as a high-level executive, or provide healthcare to these employees, there’s more you can do to promote, protect, and improve mental health in the industrial workplace:
What Is the Industrial Workplace?
In the United States, the “industrial workplace” is a broad term that covers a wide range of jobs and sectors. However, in this context, the industrial workplace is any job or environment wherein raw materials are manufactured into goods or products. Factories and warehouses, as well as manufacturing and assembly plants, all fall under this broader definition. Common examples of well-known industrial workplaces include Amazon warehouses, automotive factories (such as Volkswagen and Toyota), and electronics assembly plants (including those where Apple, Samsung, and Dell products are made).
The environment of the industrial workplace is not conducive to mental wellbeing. Industrial positions are often physically demanding, repetitive, monotonous, and, at times, dangerous or hazardous to employees’ physical safety. Concerns over maintaining physical safety can be exhausting, especially for employees who work longer shifts.
In addition to the typical and everyday difficulties many adults must face, the nature of the actual work done in industrial environments can be stressful. Workers may have to meet production quotas within a certain amount of time, or work for long periods without being able to take a break, use the bathroom, or rest. For example, Amazon’s warehouses and fulfillment centers have been criticized for the productivity expectations they have for employees, which have resulted in job losses at best and serious health issues at worst. The pressure of such working conditions can take a toll on employees’ mental wellbeing, and, combined with the other stresses of the industrial workplace, can have severe, long-lasting health consequences.
The Role of Companies and Managers
Luckily, there are many ways that industrial businesses and company leadership can try to improve the mental health of their employees. In fact, because they control every aspect of employment and workplace conditions, they play one of the biggest roles in promoting employee health at work. There are several simple best practices you can follow and changes you can make to improve mental wellness in your workplace, including:
- Provide Therapy Coverage: If you offer health insurance, make sure mental health services are covered in your employees’ plans. Therapy and mental health treatment can be expensive without insurance, even for employees who are well-off. Without insurance coverage, poorer employees may not be able to access mental health services at all, despite being in greater need due to the effects of living in poverty and working in an industrial environment.
- More/Longer Breaks: Whenever possible, provide your employees with another break or two, or longer breaks, throughout the workday. Taking breaks gives your employees the chance to step away from their work stations and mentally refresh themselves. Further, one survey found that employees who consistently take a lunch break report increased job satisfaction and improved efficiency and productivity.
- Work Rotation: Consider implementing a regular job rotation schedule so employees have more variety in the actual work they do. This can take the form of employees switching roles throughout the day, each day, or every few days or weeks. Not only is this a simple way to keep employees engaged and focused, but it also allows them to learn new skills, step in to cover other employees’ days off, and prepares them to take on other roles and responsibilities in the future.
- Offer Wellness Resources: Build up a collection of various wellness resources that you can share with your employees. This can include information about how to incorporate mindfulness practices into the workday, helpful stretches they can do during their breaks, proven therapy-approved coping techniques, or soothing at-home workouts to do once they get home. Try to tailor these resources to suit the unique needs of your team.
- Give Feedback: Provide your employees with positive feedback as frequently as possible and appropriate. While you shouldn’t lie or give unearned praise, it’s important to let your employees know when they do a good job. Showing that you recognize and appreciate their hard work can go a long way in boosting confidence and morale.
- Ask for Feedback: Conversely, ask your employees what they think about your efforts to improve mental health in the workplace. Get their input about what they need to be healthier or more successful. After all, they’re the ones who know what their biggest challenges at work are and what support or resources they need from you to overcome them.
Even employing a handful of these strategies can go a long way in improving your team’s mental health while they’re at work.
The Role of Doctors and Therapists
Naturally, both physical and mental healthcare professionals can also make a significant impact on industrial employees’ mental wellbeing. As a mental health professional — such as therapists and counselors — you can help patients with a wide variety of issues. While some patients may need tools to help them get through long shifts, others may need help overcoming trauma or working through sleep problems to improve their work performance. However, you should always try to offer treatment that helps patients find mental wellness both in and out of the workplace, even when improving their work experience is their primary objective.
While typically focused on physical health, you can still assist patients with their mental health as a doctor or primary care provider. Depending on the capabilities of your current facility, you may be able to conduct mental health screenings in standard appointments. Even if you cannot offer further mental health services yourself, you may be able to refer your patient to a specialist who is better suited to treat them. Above all else, be empathetic with your patients’ struggles as you determine the best course of treatment for them.
Interestingly, you can also play an important role in patients’ mental health while working as an occupational therapist. One of the best parts of being an occupational therapist, in particular, is that you’re able to support mental wellbeing because of your holistic approach to patient care — especially if you’ve specialized in psychiatry. Industrial workers can greatly benefit from working with an occupational therapist, as they overcome any injuries or physical stresses while simultaneously supporting mental wellness.
The Role of Employees
As an employee at an industrial workplace, there are several things you can do to care for your mental health while on the job. First and foremost, it’s important to recognize how your job impacts your mental health, especially when those impacts are negative. Working in an industrial job can be difficult and stressful, and you don’t have to pretend that it isn’t. However, you don’t want to focus so much on the negative aspects of your job that you contribute to your own dissatisfaction or lose sight of the benefits of this position.
Try to shift your perspective when thinking about work. Not only is working in manufacturing a way to support yourself and your family, but it is also a way to support your community. The products you are developing, creating, and distributing may be essential to someone else’s survival or wellbeing. Do your best to focus on this bigger picture when you are lost in the minutia of your daily tasks.
Finally, don’t hesitate to seek out whatever support you need, both in and out of the workplace. It can be hard to overcome the stigma of talking about mental health at work, but doing so is crucial for your own wellbeing. By doing your best to care for your mental health, you can work to improve your overall wellbeing, as well as your satisfaction with your job.
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