How Workplace Safety Issues Affect Mental Health [New Data]
In 2022, there’s no question that employee mental health has become a critical issue in the workplace.
We all know that working long hours, unrealistic workloads, and even office politics can take a toll on employee mental health. However, many people may not recognize the connection between workplace safety and employee mental health.
Until now, that is. The NSC recently polled over 1,000 workers between age 20 and 65 and asked them about their work environment, mental health, and their feelings about safety at work in general and regarding COVID-19 risk. The results revealed a strong correlation between feelings of depression and anxiety and how safe the respondents felt at work.
So what do these findings mean for leaders, supervisors, and safety professionals? In this blog post, we’ll walk you through three ways workplace safety issues affect employee mental health based on the survey data.
3 ways workplace safety affects mental health
1. Employees who feel unsafe at work are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Anything from concerns about COVID-19 to fear of workplace violence can cause employees to feel unsafe at work. These feelings can take a toll on employees’ mental health.
The NSC survey revealed that people who feel unsafe at work are nearly three times more likely to experience depressive symptoms than people who feel safe at work. What’s more, these individuals are more than twice as likely to report symptoms of anxiety compared to individuals who feel safe at work.
2. Employees who feel the most unsafe at work are also the most likely to meet the criteria for clinical diagnosis of mental illness.
When employees feel unsafe at work, it can begin to take a toll on their mental health. If left unchecked, these feelings can manifest into something more serious.
According to NSC, 40% of people who say they feel “very” unsafe at work have symptoms of depression all or most of the time, while only 1% of those who feel very safe at work have those symptoms. Likewise, 25% of people who report feeling "very" unsafe at work also report experiencing anxiety symptoms all or most days. Only 2% of people who say they feel very safe experience the same.
3. Feeling unsafe at work impacts employees on and off the clock.
Just like physical illness, symptoms of depression and anxiety that stem from feeling unsafe at work can spread into workers’ personal lives. They might come home feeling completely drained and dread going to work the next day. Friends and family members may also notice changes in the person’s mood, appetite, or sleeping habits. These symptoms can make it difficult to go about their daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, and caregiving.
Worryingly, depression and anxiety may continue long after the initial trigger is gone. This means that even if a worker quits their job or transfers to another facility, they may continue to suffer the ill effects of feeling unsafe at work.
Feeling safe, being safe
It’s important to note that the NSC survey asked people about their feelings toward safety at work. Feeling safe at work stood out as an important factor in employees’ mental health.
This means employers need to be more tuned in to how employees are feeling about safety — not just how many injuries or illnesses actually happened in their workplace. There are many factors that contribute to employees feeling safe at work. These range from receiving adequate training, to knowing that their concerns are heard and addressed.
“To be safe, one must also feel safe. Feeling unsafe at work is hurting people, and more must be done to combat this in a holistic way,” said NSC vice president of thought leadership John Dony.
“Employers everywhere must accept responsibility for their impact on workers on and off the clock by implementing safety policies and procedures that protect the whole person, including both physically and mentally.”