Mental health is one of the biggest medical issues facing the world now, and this has a huge spillover into workplaces across the globe. More and more employers are realising the importance of good mental health in the workplace, but more needs to be done.
A lot of employees dealing with mental illness tend to not speak up because of the attached stigma. And many employers don’t say too much about the matter so that business can continue as usual. But the truth of the matter is that it’s not business as usual when people are suffering in silence.
The World Health Organisation estimates that about 264 million people globally suffer from depression, and it costs the global economy an estimated $1 trillion (R14,9 trillion) each year lost in productivity. This startling figure tells us that employers need to start paying attention to this issue. Ultimately, mental health issues faced in the workplace affect an organisation’s bottom line.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) writes that mental illness in the workplace leads to increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, compromised work safety and poor work quality.
The way forward
So what are employers to do? The main thing is around creating an open environment where employees feel safe speaking up about their different mental health battles and offering better support for those employees affected by mental illnesses.
“Employers who offer access to a psychologist, counsellor or life coach can make a huge difference and possibly curb high rates of absenteeism down the line,” Dr Helen Weber, medical advisor at Sanlam, tells us.
“Also, creating an inclusive work environment with regular sensitivity training and facilitating training and communication around mental health can help stress how important early interventions are, plus diligence with treatment compliance.”
She adds that employers who have prioritised the mental well-being of their staff have seen the benefits of subsidising this type of care. As Dr Weber mentioned above, something as simple as making psychologists/counsellors available to employees can change everything.
“Employees can develop coping skills and problem-solving skills through counselling,” she explains. “And the employer has the benefit of decreased absenteeism, increased productivity and a positive work environment. Less turnover of staff is an indirect benefit of a counselling service being available. The employees will also have a positive perception of the organisation because they will see it as supportive and caring.”
What employers can do
Weber shares some key insights on how employers can show their commitment to prioritising issues of mental health in the workplace:
Compassion and communication
- Companies need to show understanding when it takes a while for someone to reach his or her maximum medical improvement. Support employees with the journey by being empathetic and understanding.
- Put measures in place to check for signs of impending burnout in a team. Regularly check in on workload, the hours individuals are working, and keep tabs on how stressed/happy people are feeling.
Raising awareness on services offered
- The same goes for primary healthcare. If an employer is providing access to primary healthcare in the form of visits and assistance with compliance of medication to a primary healthcare practitioner, it’s important all staff members are made aware of this service.
- If an employer is offering access to a counsellor, life coach or psychologist, make sure everyone is aware of this. Also make sure they feel safe enough to take advantage of it. Consider the feasibility of bringing a life coach in-house for monthly sessions.
- Raise awareness around medical aid, disability, sickness and income protection, as well as other support systems that are available. These can potentially make a significant difference in coping with the financial implications of a mental disorder.
- Additionally, it’s vital that people are aware of prescribed minimum benefit (PMB) conditions. For example, bipolar disorder is a PMB, which means a medical insurer is obligated to cover medication and treatment for this condition.
- Providing access to a financial adviser can also make a big difference. Often, a mental disorder comes with a considerable financial burden. That’s where having access to objective advice can be invaluable.
Using your voice
- Advocate for the importance of mental health days.
- Raise awareness around the importance of support and positive lifestyle changes. It’s important to support a positive work/life balance. Offering flexi-time when operationally possible means people can have some control over their time. You could even offer yoga or something similar to that in-office.