Mental health conversations must be normalised at workplaces

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Emmanuel Zvada

BY Emmanuel Zvada
WE are living in a time of uncertainty, and many people are feeling stressed, anxious and depressed. What does a good leader do when the team is overwhelmed with anxiety, burned out, or depressed? Responsible leaders must recognise the signs of declining mental health in their employees and empower them to open up and seek help. Indeed, mental well-being is now a concern for everyone, hence employers should normalise all discussions for normal.

Why mental well-being at workplaces?

The days of not talking about mental health are gone and supporting mental health in the workplace is now a necessity. Mental health, along with physical health and social well-being, is an essential component of overall health.

It’s also important to point out that mental health is more than the absence of mental illness. You can have poor mental health without having an illness and likewise, you can have good mental health with a mental illness.

Mental health problems have a direct impact on business through increased absenteeism, accidents and employee turnover, as well as decreased productivity and performance, hence it’s key to have discussions concerning mental health issues. Work is good for mental health, but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems. A shift in attitudes by both employees and employers about mental disorders is needed to address the importance of mental health in the workplace.

What is mental health and wellbeing?

Mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, copes with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and make a contribution to her or his community. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through to adulthood.

Awareness of the full range of employee mental health experiences is the first step to supporting good mental health in the workplace.

Ways of improving mental health and wellbeing

Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand and there is strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive. Many organisations currently fall short when it comes to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing.

There are, however, several ways to do so that not only help to create a mentally healthy environment but also a workplace that employees want to fully participate in. Here are some simple things that organisations can do to create a mentally healthy workplace:

Promoting and supporting wellbeing issues at work

There is no doubt that improving employee wellbeing is beneficial to any organisation and wellbeing should be considered part of an employer’s ethical responsibility particularly when we consider how prevalent mental health issues are.

A company that prioritises health and wellbeing in the workplace will not only reduce absenteeism, but also attract and retain talent, improve productivity and boost morale. There are small steps that organisations can take to ensure wellbeing is a priority in their employees’ day-to-day working lives and one of it is simply promoting and supporting wellbeing issues at work. Improving employee wellbeing must be a priority, and employers should be considerate about how their wellbeing strategy builds on and aligns to their health and safety policy.

Create an open, inclusive caring culture

As with any facet of company culture, creating and encouraging a sense of belonging in your workplace begins at the leadership level. Employees need to believe that their organisation provides a positive and inclusive working environment and trust that they will be provided with the support they need.

Otherwise, it may be difficult to break down the stigma around mental health at workplaces. This requires employers to create a culture that supports inclusivity. It should be made clear that any mental health and wellbeing issue employees wish to discuss will always be treated with confidentiality, respect and understanding.

Create a healthy work environment

The work environment is known to have a significant impact on employee mental wellness, productivity, job turnover and overall profits. Leaders can influence a healthy workplace environment by having an open-door policy, keeping employees informed of developments, departmental changes, business goals, and policies. These provide direction, build trust, and reduce employee stress.

There are also top-down policy changes that may benefit your workforce, including flex time so employees can get exercise and attend to personal needs while also completing a full day of work, and work-from-home options, whether it’s a full move to a home office or one or two days per week.

Run mental health and wellbeing initiatives and regular meetings

Regular meetings should not be solely about work. Your regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, and even your performance reviews, can be opportunities to have a holistic conversation with employees. Rather than simply ensuring that work is getting done, you can use these meetings to gauge an employee’s overall wellbeing. Taking the time to ask an employee how their day is going and having a quick chat before you delve into agenda items can make the world of difference to how they are feeling and creates an opportunity for them to raise any issues or concerns. Creating proactive options that help people improve and maintain their mental health day-to-day is key to helping employees flourish as far as mental health and wellbeing initiatives is concerned must also be prioritised.

Workplace wellbeing programmes

Regular initiatives help to promote the importance of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and engage your staff. Whether you run these initiatives internally, or seek external expertise, they can help you support employees holistically. Examples include physical health programs or challenges, the provision of mental wellbeing resources, mindfulness practices, personal development opportunities and the provision of an employee assistance program. No matter what size or type of workplace you manage, implementing a health and wellbeing programme leads to significant improvements. You will increase productivity, improve staff retention, and build a reputation as being a desirable place to work.

Host Mental Health Support Trainings

Upskilling, training and development can support the creation of a mentally healthy workplace by helping to engage employees, develop their career, boost their confidence and improve their morale. In order to achieve a more open culture, it’s always best, where possible, to introduce the idea of mental health support or training right from the employee induction stage. Several training options are available. Mental health training can give you a range of skills to help should an employee begin to experience issues, by equipping you with  the tools needed to recognise when someone may need more support.

Work on the work-life balance

When we think of mental health, we usually think about conditions like anxiety and depression, but there is more to being mentally healthy than not suffering from a specific condition. The stresses and pressures of balancing work with the demands of your personal life can often result in employees feeling overwhelmed or even cause them to burnout.

Ensuring that a positive balance is promoted by implementing effective practices to combat stress. Stress and overworking can all lead to mental health challenges and can resultantly lead to serious performance issues. This is why you should focus on establishing a healthy work-life balance for all of your employees. We all have mental health just as we have physical health – it moves up and down along a spectrum from good to poor. And considering how much time we spend at work, it’s not surprising that workplace environments and culture affect our wellbeing. Smart employers know that organisations perform better when staff are healthy, motivated and focused.

  •  Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant and an international recruitment expert.

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