Post-pandemic, mental health in the workplace has become a priority as never before — and preventing harassment is at the heart of the issue. One community-based mental health organization puts it this way, “When you are harassed at the workplace, this makes more room for anxiety to appear. There are many anxiety disorders that people can develop through time, and many of them can affect your functioning. You may have constant feelings of fear and anxiety, thoughts that something bad will happen soon, and an inability to work on your tasks because of these thoughts.”
According to a McKinsey study, one in three employees say returning to work, as part of a post-pandemic transition, has had a negative impact on their mental health, making them anxious and depressed.
The study’s findings posit that “employers who recognize and prioritize psychological safety alongside physical safety in their post-pandemic operations can help employees’ mental health and their own efforts to cultivate inclusive workplaces. This support can have concrete effects on critical workplace outcomes, including employee well-being, satisfaction, productivity, and absenteeism.”
A new mental health framework from the U.S. Surgeon General
The United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, agrees. A recently released Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health & Well-Being in the Workplace outlines the foundational role workplaces should play in promoting the health and well-being of workers. “As reports of ‘quiet quitting’ and the Great Resignation have shown, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of work for many and the relationship that some workers have with their jobs.”
The surgeon general says this framework will “require organizations to rethink how they protect workers from harm, foster a sense of connection among workers, show workers they matter, make space for their lives outside work, and support their growth. It will be worth it, because the benefits will accrue for workers and organizations alike.”
- 76 percent of U.S. workers in a 2021 survey reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition (anxiety, depression), an increase of 17 percentage points in just two years.
- 81 percent of workers reported they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health in the future.
- 84 percent of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that had a negative impact on their mental health.
The top recommendation should be no surprise. Stated as “protection from harm,” it is described as follows:
Protection from harm: Creating the conditions for physical and psychological safety is a critical foundation for ensuring mental health and well-being in the workplace. To promote practices that better assure protection from harm, workplaces can:
- Prioritize workplace physical and psychological safety
- Enable adequate rest
- Normalize and support focusing on mental health
- Operationalize Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) norms, policies and programs
Let’s dive in deeper to look at what it means to protect employees from harm and consider why harassment prevention is one of the key ways this can be accomplished.
How harassment prevention is connected to mental health
Protection from harm by its very definition requires preventing something bad from happening. That’s why it’s called harassment prevention. That means not only creating awareness about the mental health damage that harassment can do, but also taking concrete action to address behaviors that can ultimately lead up to the legal definition of harassment — such as bullying, microaggressions (slights and barbs sometimes disguised as “jokes”) and other behaviors that demean and minimize others.