Supporting mental health in the workplace

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Paying attention to employees’ mental health should be a top priority for employers. The modern workplace has become so toxic with elements like negativity, bullying, poor communication, unhealthy competition, long working hours, and distrust being the order of the day. Many people spend a huge part of their lives at work so if the work environment is toxic, their mental health is affected. Common mental health issues being experienced in the workplace are depression, stress, and anxiety. Unfortunately, these disorders go unnoticed, hidden, or discussed in hushed tones.

How then do we ensure that our workplaces are places to thrive and not corrode our mental health? This is the role of the employers, employees, investors, customers, suppliers, and all other stakeholders. The biggest responsibility though lies with the management. They should be at the forefront to help create a culture that supports mental health and ensure those serving them experience their daily work life in a meaningful and purposeful manner. The following are ways an organisation can help employees maintain a healthy mental state in the workplace.

 1. Creating awareness

Having candid conversations around mental health helps break the stigma and also foster an inclusive workplace. This can be done through training programs that will help break general perceptions of mental illness, teach employees how to balance themselves emotionally as well as gain experience in dealing with mental health issues. Availing access to materials and resources that support mental health awareness also helps in developing knowledge around the issue. 

Effective workplace mental health awareness increases the chances of early intervention in case an employee is suffering from mental illness, resulting in fast recovery and also helps mitigates some undesired business effects.

2. Creating a safe work environment

By having policies that reflect on the organisation commitment to a healthy and safe environment. These policies establish a guide for prevention, treatment, and promotion of mental health in the workplace. Policies that prevent employees’ distress such as anti-discrimination, open communication, anti-harassment, and even mental health policy usually create a harmonious and safe environment that is peaceful to be in.

Insurance package is another way to show commitment to mental health. Currently, mental healthcare (Treatment and counseling) is an expensive affair in Kenya, and adding the mental care cover in the company insurance plan would go a long way in supporting the course. Other simple and non-monetary ways to support include evaluating strict targets, flexibility, being compassionate while giving feedback, and employee recognition.

3. Work-life balance

Have you ever heard of a situation where individuals are scared to take time off or do not use their vacation days? This is because of reasons like job insecurity, heavy workload, company culture, or stockpiling for companies that roll over leave days. Employees who do not take time out to recharge are more prone to depression, burnouts, irritability, and mood swings.

Image by 畅 苏 from Pixabay

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A workplace that recognizes the need for a balance between work demands and personal life directly impacts the mental health of its employees positively. Some of the ways an organisation can champion healthy work-life balance include; 

  • Creating a flexible work environment by having flexi-time or opportunity to work from home.
  • Workload management; by creating an environment where the quantity of work is valued as opposed to quantity and in most cases, tasks will be successfully completed within stipulated working hours.
  • Reducing employees reliance on working overtime and when overtime is necessary, rewarding the  hours and work done
  • Family day at work to give employees family members a glimpse of their loved one workplace and life. 

4. Risk assessment

In the employer’s responsibility of duty of care for its employee, periodic mental health risk assessment is advisable. Occupation health and safety committee should be in place to conduct the risk assessment with an aim to identify the mental and wellbeing hazards that can contribute to a decline in employees’ psychological health. The risk assessment should take into consideration;

  • Specific situations in which the employees are exposed to the risks.
  • Frequency of exposure to risk.
  • Procedures and Measure in place to manage mental health cases that may occur
  • Risk control plans at the organisation and individual level

Risk assessment should be an ongoing affair due to potential new risks with the ever-changing business environment.

5. Employee involvement

Supporting mental health in the workplace is not the responsibility of management alone.  Employees should help build a culture of engagement and checking in with fellow colleagues. Go beyond the daily morning and hello. Be intentional about knowing how the person who sits next to you is really doing. Communicate with fellow employees without judgment. Understand their emotional triggers and offer support wherever you can. This increases a sense of belonging that we all yearn for and most mental health victims lack. Remember that once you create a happy workplace, you will enjoy coming to work every day and the workplace will feel like a second home.

Mental health is a human right. It is a human concern and not a productivity issue as it is widely perceived. The sooner employers and employees become champions of a mentally healthy and safe workspace, the sooner they stand to reap the benefits both short and long term. This includes increased productivity, loyalty, decreased absenteeism, enhanced morale and motivation, and a more inclusive and diverse culture.

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