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6 ways to boost mental health through greater job control

Boost mental health

A higher level of job control, social support and job security can lower the likelihood of mental health disorders among your employees and help their mental health flourish, according to a recent study by the Institute for Work & Health.* The odds of being free of mental health disorders increase by 8 to 15% while the odds of better mental wellbeing grow by 10 to 14%.

These new findings give employers added incentive to address psychosocial workplace factors such as job control, social support and job security. “If employers are saying, ‘I want high performing employees,’ this is how to get there,” says Andrew Harkness, Strategy Advisor, Organizational Health Initiatives for WSPS. “These factors are all about organizational excellence. A happy employee is a productive employee.”

Focusing on just one psychosocial factor, job control, we asked Andrew for suggestions on how employers can boost employees’ mental health through greater autonomy.

“Job demands alone won’t create an environment in which people are motivated, fulfilled, engaged and happy, or the reverse, overwhelmed, overstressed, and burned out. It’s the combination of job demands and job control,” says Andrew. “In other words, ‘Yes, I have a lot to do, and I have discretion on how it gets done.’”

Here are six ways workplaces can give employees that discretion:

  1. Do things with people rather than to people. “Give employees an opportunity to contribute to decisions that affect them. Not at the last minute - ‘Tomorrow we’re changing your office around’ - but while change is being considered.”
  2. Look for areas employees can influence. One example is how a task is performed. “They know the job best. If you’re not mining that information, you could be missing a huge opportunity.”
  3. Prepare your managers and supervisors. “Make sure they understand that giving employees greater discretion is not about taking away authority or encouraging insubordination.”
  4. Be clear about the input you seek. This helps avoid unrealistic or impractical suggestions, as well as disappointment if suggestions aren’t implemented.
  5. Respond to every suggestion. “All suggestions deserve acknowledgement,” says Andrew. “If you can’t proceed, say thanks and briefly explain why not.”
  6. Challenge traditions, such as a 9-5 workday. Opening your workplace up to flex time or working from home may mean switching from a quantitative to qualitative measure of work: “I’m not really worried about whether you put in 7 or 8 hours. I trust you to get this work done by the end of the month.”

Mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, account for 30% of short-term and long-term disability claims and 70% of disability costs. Turning those stats around requires being innovative and giving employees more job autonomy is a simple but effective way to boost mental health.

How we can help

Learn more about psychosocial workplace factors that influence mental or psychological health at Guarding Minds@Work, a website developed by researchers from the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addictions within Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

Check out WSPS’ extensive list of workplace mental health resources, including classroom training, e-courses, videos, articles, and free downloads.

Attend a workplace mental health session at any one of WSPS’ regional conferences this fall.

* “Psychosocial work conditions and mental health,” Institute for Work & Health, June 2019;