“Proactive Management Is the Best Medicine for Mental Illness In The Workplace” (Dr Ali Hamdulay).
The World Health Organisation (WHO)defines
mental health as “ a state of well-being in which the individual realises his
or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work
productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his her
community”. Research has revealed that South Africa is
the fifth “most depressed country in Africa”.
This should be alarming and a driver on how best to deal with the
pandemic. Regrettably, the prevailing situation is one
in that physical illnesses receive broader attention than mental well-being.
There are cases in this country most of us can relate to, where some community members
took their own lives due to their state of mental well-being. This should be a wake-up call for employers
to have open debates about the situation and have a conducive environment where
employees can be able to speak out, without any fear of victimisation. Educating
and empowering employees might be some of the remedial actions to look at the
Chambers (SADAG Operations Director) said, “because people don’t know where to
go to get help, or are too scared to seek it, the stats we have are still not a
true reflection of what is actually happening on the ground”. There is still the perception that someone with a mental
illness is crazy, dangerous or weak. Because there is often an absence of
physical symptoms with mental illness, it is considered ‘not real’, a figment
of the imagination.
Mental illness in the workplace is
something to be taken seriously as it can
lead to decreased productivity, risk-related absenteeism, poor work quality,
wasted materials and even compromised workplace safety.”In
South Africa, the month of October is declared the mental health awareness
month, with the aim of educating and reducing the stigma. However, we often
find that after any month of a specific observation, people tend to move on
with their normal lives and forget some of the issues that are critical for the
society, and especially in the workplace.
It is for this reason that I am writing this article post October month,
to remind the HR community that the health issue at hand is still there and did
not vanish into thin air, post October month. Having said the above, it is the
onus of HR Professionals/Managers to ensure that the wellbeing of employees is
a priority. “Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When “I” is replaced
illness becomes wellness” -Shannon L. Alder.
Looking at the factors that are considered as
key elements of psychological wellbeing,
they are by no means excluding the workplace.
Those are: self-acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life,
environmental mastery, autonomy and positive relations with others.
address the challenges in the workplace, several remedial actions can be
adopted. These are, but not limited to:
a work-life balance: Praising employees who work late and arrive early or expecting
them to work from home in the evenings hurts your company in the long run.
Without a healthy work/life balance, productivity is likely to decline, and
employees are more likely to burn out. Insist
that employees take regular vacations where they are able to unplug from the
office. Encourage everyone to develop a rich, full life outside of the office.
People who engage in hobbies, spend time with loved ones, and take time to care
for themselves make better employees.
health in the workplace: Don’t be afraid to
bring up issues related to stress, depression, anxiety, or other mental
illness. Make it clear everyone struggles to stay mentally healthy sometimes. Educate managers about the signs of mental
health problems and train them to respond appropriately. A caring conversation
between a supervisor and an employee could also be instrumental in encouraging
an individual to get help.
screening tools: Most mental health
issues are left untreated because employees don’t recognise the signs and
symptoms. They may pass off their issues as “stress” or they may try
to convince themselves their problems will go away on their own.
Talk about EAP
benefits often: Offering an EAP
benefit that allows employees to access a handful of therapy sessions for free
is important. But many companies don’t spend enough time reminding employees
that they should access these services; remind your employees to use the EAP
and remind them of their benefits often.
Reassure them that it is confidential!
Make wellness a
priority: Exercise, healthy eating, and
participation in leisure activities are a few simple ways to build mental
strength and improve mental health. So, make it a priority to help people
develop good habits. Whether you offer incentives to employees who participate
in wellness programs, or you offer free gym memberships, make wellness a top
priority for your organisation.
events: Provide employees with in-service
trainings on self-care, stress management, and resilience. Hiring a therapist
to provide half-day workshops a few times a year could go a long way toward
preventing problems and emphasizing the importance of building healthy
strategies into your daily life. These in-service trainings could save the company
money in the long-term while also helping employees reach their greatest
efforts to get help: While most
employees don’t hesitate to take time off to go to the dentist, many of them
are likely to be shy about addressing their mental health needs. Make it
clear you support employees’ efforts to take care of their minds in the
same way you want them to take care of their bodies. Whether that means
allowing an employee to take a mental health day or offering a flexible work
schedule so an individual can attend therapy appointments, make it clear you
won’t penalise anyone for taking care of their mental health.
Reduce the stigma: Talking about stress management, self-care, and mental health in
meetings and in email communications can reduce the stigma associated with
mental illness. When employees trust you won’t call them “crazy” for
having a panic attack or fire them when they’re struggling with depression,
they’ll be more willing to seek treatment. And fortunately, most mental health
conditions are very treatable.
The Role of HR
There are 5
ways HR can help improve psychological wellbeing
Although HR traditionally makes mental health an integral part
of employee management, support and part of the business manpower planning
and development process, HR should be an enabler and facilitator but not a
direct owner which is best placed, owned and championed at C-suite level
Support a culture embracing health in all aspects and not
differentiating mental health and potentially increasing focus and stigma
Integrate mental health and resilience for all into all
training programmes. Make people management a core line manager competency
Encourage open and honest conversations at all business
levels. Train all line managers to recognise when employees may be failing
and developing a mental health problem, how to have empathetic and
supportive conversations with employees and know where professional help
Make holistic lifestyle awareness, development and support
programs which embrace exercise, sleep awareness and support, good
nutritional advice, stress awareness, good social contacts readily
available and develop a culture where 24-hour communications and impact on
personal time is manageable.
In concluding, I would like to say, let
us live our values as HR practitioners, and care about those who work
selflessly and make everybody as well as the organisation shine. We should not only put our focus on the physical
wellbeing but also to know that the person next to you might be suffering
mentally. Those people await you to
reach out to them.