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How important is mental health at workplaces? Featured

Post by  GNN Web Desk 10 Oct 2019 1 comment 48
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Mental wellbeing of the workforce is a growing concern for governments as well as businesses, globally.

Mental health alone, as a cause, accounts for global loss of productivity worth INR 65.39 trillion (US$ 1 trillion) annually. Poor mental health of employees is rapidly gaining momentum and is increasingly affecting organizations in India too.

There has been a rise in the number of reported cases of employees suffering from poor mental health, coming from organizations across all sectors due to depression, anxiety, hypertension and high workplace stress, which are becoming the most common work-related illnesses.

Despite global attention and initiatives to raise awareness, the stigma associated with the subject stands as a major challenge for organizations. For some, it is the fear of being singled out, while others feel that the workplace environment is not appropriate to open-up. Clearly, a reorientation in the approach to address the issue is needed.

A culture that embraces the fact that everyone is susceptible to a mental health challenge, at some point in life, can be a significant first step in this direction.

Risk Factors for Mental Wellbeing and its Impact on the Workplace

Deteriorating mental health of an employee can be due to work-related or non-work-related factors. However, prolonged workplace stress is one of the most alarming among them. Workplace burnouts, resulting from constant stress, can lead to serious mental ailments that can even manifest into serious complications.

Long work hours, unrealistic deadlines, discouragement for taking out leisure time, inadequate health policies along with lack of communication and encouragement are key risk factors for people who are undergoing some of these stressful situations or may be vulnerable to mental health problems. In India, about 67% people admit that they are forced to think about work even when on leave, hence causing widespread burnout and stress in their day-to-day lives.

Being perpetually stressed impacts the physical, mental and emotional well-being of people and leads to high absenteeism, turnover, adversely impacting the productivity of the company in several ways. As a consequence, employees suffer from inability to focus, unhappy state of mind, loss of efficiency, degradation of work quality, and cases of project deadlines being pushed are increasingly becoming common for organizations in India and across the world.

Initiatives Being Taken to Implement Mental Health Programs Globally

Renowned world leaders like New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Arden and HRH Prince William have spoken candidly about addressing the issue, and international organizations including WHO have released guidelines for implementing mental health and safety standards in the workplace.

In an attempt to support employee wellbeing and reduce workplace-related stress and anxiety, countries including New Zealand and Japan are moving towards a 4-day workweek whereas Sweden is testing out a 6-hour working day.

Leading research firms are investing huge sums in mental health research, aimed at developing standards for early detection of depression and anxiety and devising better psychological therapies, counselling sessions for the patients.

Measures That Organizations Can Take to Create Mentally Healthy Workplaces

Some ways organizations can create a balance between maximum productivity and a stress-free work environment for employees struggling with mental health issues:

Dedicated mental health initiatives including workshops, trainings and formal policies related to mental health are radical reforms that must be incorporated. Facilitating resources to screen mental illness, regular training of team members, managers and especially senior level people to identify signs of depression or anxiety and address the issues related to intimidation or sexual harassment with empathy must be top priority for any organization to build a healthy workplace.

High Flexibility/Adjustments in work practices such as providing flexibility of working according to personal life situations, work from home, setting realistic expectations and encouraging staff to take regular breaks.

Upscaling the office environment through well-lit and clean space helps employees function without distractions and stress. Open collaborative spaces can make working a pleasant experience. Apart from the design changes, a motivational culture dedicated to making employees feel respected, appreciated and rewarded timely can enhance their overall morale.

Individual Contribution is Most Crucial Towards Building A Healthy Workplace

Employees themselves are the key stakeholders for the success of any mental health initiative. As colleagues and team members, they spend most part of their day together. Therefore, their interpersonal understanding and support in challenging life situations can genuinely contribute to the mental wellness of the workplace.

When dealing with an emotionally upset colleague, always choose a comfortable place, talk in a friendly tone and keep an open demeanor. Listen actively with undivided attention and acknowledge their thoughts with nods.

Guiding affected colleagues to proper assistance and ensuring that the work environment is safe and pleasant for them can make a remarkable difference.

A real-life case of an employee has been an example towards building healthy workplace. The employee was undergoing a trauma due to a family ailment. Due to the situation at personal end, his office work and performance were also getting adversely impacted.

Eventually, lack of support and understanding from his friends led to his sporadic behavior, frustrations, emotional highs, declining performance, inability to focus, missing deadlines were noticed by his manager.

The manager recognized early symptoms and the need of immediate intervention. He approached the Mental Health Champions, who are certified health champions, to open dialogue and have discussions around his growing discomfort.

All this was handled with utmost sincerity and confidentiality to help the employee delve the details and discuss his current situation. Post the findings, he was connected to the counsellor and psychologist to help bring positive changes in his behavior within a period of 6-8 weeks.

This was a classic example of how small efforts from colleagues / coworkers can go a long way in helping those who are dealing with stress leading to poor performance.

In addition to improving millions of lives, making mental health a business priority can also harness the influence of the working population to create the much-needed impetus towards broader societal progress around mental health.

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