The year 2022 has been one of many brave steps globally as many of us brace for uncertainties and set out to thrive in the new normal. It is an unsaid truth that the pandemic has deeply impacted humanity, the repercussions of which we are yet to experience in totality but eventually will do so in the future. Almost two years spent living in isolation, fearing the deadly coronavirus, has, without a doubt, impacted the mental health of us all.
Harish TR, Senior Vice President and Head of Human Resources, Maveric Systems said, “Mental Health has not been considered a severe issue for a long time. Studies from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) indicate that anxiety and depression have been rampant the world over, resulting in a loss of almost 12 billion working days, cumulatively translating to productivity losses of US$ 1 trillion per year approximately as of 2019. Per reports from WHO, nearly 15% of working adults globally, were estimated to have a mental disorder in 2019. COVID-19 has amplified this number by almost 25%, says their recent scientific brief. The result is that the number of people living with mental disorders is at an alarming one billion.”
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“It is time for corporates to take up more responsibility for the mental health of their people and help eradicate the stigma around it. Workplaces are equally responsible for the mental well-being of their employees – for better or worse depends on the measures. Prioritizing mental health at work is no longer an option for businesses but an imperative for them to thrive in these times of uncertainty. It is the need of the hour as people minimize the concept of working from home and prepare to return to the office in a phased manner, or what we popularly call the hybrid model. Anxiety and loneliness also have contributed a great deal to the current situation at the workplace,” Soundharya N added.
It is even more essential for organizations to have robust mental wellness initiatives primarily aimed at employees. In some cases, there are benefits extended to one’s family too. Here are some key pointers by Harish TR and Soundharya N to follow as we normalize employee mental health to be a top priority in the workplace:
- Value and promote mental health – Valuing and promoting mental health at the workplace is possible only when it is ingrained in the culture. Each aspect of the work environment, be it the people, process, or even technology, must be able to nurture an employee’s mental health positively. It doesn’t warrant expensive programs and heavy investments to foster such a culture. With exemplary leadership and a culture that includes every individual, managing mental health in the workplace need not be a herculean task.
- Asses psychosocial risks – Psychosocial hazards are factors that may arise due to the working conditions and how work is designed, managed, or organized, all leading to increased work stress. These can increase mental illness in the workplace, directly impacting productivity and overall health, sometimes leading to chronic conditions. Several market tools are available to assess psychosocial risks, help identify the root causes, and devise sustainable practices unique to the organization and its workplace. Periodical assessment will be beneficial as there will soon come a time when psychosocial risk management is a regulatory requirement to ensure mental well-being at work.
- Awareness and education on mental health – The stigma and taboo around mental illness in the workplace can be vanquished only with continued awareness and education. Having focused group discussions with employees can help companies understand what they value most about mental health and what resonates best for them. It can go a long way in curating communication and campaigns that educate about mental health and thus ensure impactful awareness. It fosters more inclusion and can make every individual an ambassador of mental well-being at work.
- Safe space to be vulnerable – Most often than not, employees with mental health issues choose to sit silent, fearing the response and treatment their colleagues and management would mete out to them. They often work under pressure to keep their conditions under wraps and labour extra efforts to complete their tasks. It is detrimental to their performance, productivity, and overall health. Businesses should foster and nurture an environment where employees can be their authentic selves, be vulnerable and share the struggles they go through. There should be no hindrance in expressing their true self and what they think and feel. A safe space that can be trusted and supports vulnerability is essential for mental well-being at work. Such a trusting environment assures employees that their health conditions will not impede their career progression or remuneration.
- Encourage conversation on mental health – An employee’s mental health needs to be treated as importantly as their physical health. Like we would encourage one to talk about their physical sickness and offer support, mental health needs the same treatment. Managers must be trained to have such conversations and how they can support their teams challenged with mental sickness. Sometimes just silent listening can be the best support and provide significant relief for individuals. Another way to do this is to have senior leaders talk about their mental health challenges in large forums and share their experiences. It will comfort others that they are not alone in this and would perhaps muster more confidence to open up about their mental health at work.
- Compassionate leadership – Mental health in the new age requires substantial support from leadership and can be achieved through compassionate and empathetic leadership. This type of leadership will be the order of the day, where importance is given to listening, understanding, and empathizing as ways of supporting people. It promotes a greater sense of being valued, cared for, and respected. It helps forge stronger bonds and increases the trust factor and loyalty too.
- Encourage fun activities during work hours – Remember the familiar quote, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. It certainly is true in the present-day world as we adjust to the new ways of work. With a pandemic that has taken a mental toll combined with remote work, stepping back into the physical office can be stressful. Companies must incorporate some form of fun activities during work hours. It will aid employees to connect better, collaborate, and become more social – factors that were minimal thanks to the pandemic. It will, in turn, help to destress and thus foster better mental health at work.
As with any other employee engagement and related activities, what has worked pre-pandemic will no longer work for mental health in the modern-day world. Mental health directly affects the overall performance and productivity levels of an organization. Frequent burnout due to stress and factors that affect mental well-being will ultimately slow down an organization. A workplace is where an individual spends almost one-third of their living days. Fostering a culture that is pro-mental wellness can no longer be delayed. Employee mental health is today the most precious wealth of any organization. Without it, no organization can be future-ready.