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Making an economic case for workplace mental health

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Not having a job or unemployment has been identified by health experts as a risk factor for some mental health challenges, while securing a job has been described as “protective”.

There is an agreement however that a negative working environment could also lead to physical and mental health problems for employees or workers.

The issue of the mental wellbeing of employees is therefore taking centre stage in global discussions on mental health, business growth and productivity.

The argument is that there is no health without mental health and an employee’s state of mind cannot be divorced from how well that individual functions at work and helps in the progress or growth of a business or organisation.

Ms Vivian N.A Aubyn, a psychologist, notes that when a person loses his or her mental capacity or wellbeing, several domains of life are affected and this does not only affect the individual but also affects relationships, communities and society at large.

Speaking in an interview with ghanabusinessnews.com on mental health and the workplace, she said mental well-being impacts on employee’s engagement and creativity, how regularly an employee is present or absent from work, including productivity, all of which have tremendous effect on business growth.

Ms Aubyn who is also a board member of PsyKForum, an NGO set up to promote psychosocial and mental well-being through the life course. PsyKForum is engaged in creating awareness about psychosocial and mental wellbeing, providing technical advice for policy formulation, conducting research, building the capacity and knowledge of professionals and the general population in psychology and mental wellbeing, among others.

On why it is important to promote the mental wellbeing of employees, Ms Aubyn explains that work and jobs define who an individual is.

“We spend the greater part of our adult years working and this is not only to get an income but also recognition, a sense of accomplishment and purpose in life.”

“Let’s recognize and accept that mental health is important. The first step will be to begin to see mental health in the same light as physical health.”

“Let us move it from taboo or the spiritual and this will help to if not remove the stigma at least reduce it. This will then help for easy dialogue about mental health,” Ms Aubyn argues.

She is therefore calling for workplace policies that would go a long way to sustain the dialogue on mental wellbeing, adding that such policies should be prevention focused but make room for treatment and reintegration.

“One way of doing this is to institute an employee assistance programme or link up with a mental health worker such as a psychologist to help establish such a programme.”

Threatening factors

According to the WHO, many factors influence the mental health of employees. Organizational issues include poor communication and management practices, limited participation in decision-making, long or inflexible working hours and lack of team cohesion.

Bullying and psychological harassment are well-known causes of work-related stress and related mental health problems.

In its information sheet published in September 2017, the WHO also expresses concern about harassment and bullying at work and notes that these are commonly reported problems, which can have a substantial adverse impact on mental health.

It argues that a negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.

Workplaces, it says, that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.

The WHO has identified some factors that can threaten work-related mental health conditions and these relate to “interactions between type of work, the organizational and managerial environment, the skills and competencies of employees, and the support available for employees to carry out their work.”

It touches on issues such as few resources to do what is required at the workplace, unsupportive managerial or organizational practices, inadequate health and safety policies, poor communication and management practices, limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work, as some risk factors for work-related mental stress.

Others, it says, includes low levels of support for employees, inflexible working hours, unclear tasks or organizational objectives.

It adds that risk may be increased in situations where there is a lack of team cohesion or social support

“Risks may also be related to job content, such as unsuitable tasks for the person’s competencies or a high and unrelenting workload. Some jobs may carry a higher personal risk than others,” the WHO adds.

Stimulating wellbeing in workplaces

Mental health has been defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), “as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

There are arguments that globalization has contributed to work-related stress and its associated disorders.

The WHO led a recent study, and estimated that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

A 2017 document on mental health at the work place, put together by the Pan American Health Organisation and the WHO Regional Office for the Americas, says that one in five people at the workplace experiences a mental health condition, with depression at the workplace being a leading cause of lost work productivity, sick leave and premature retirement.

According to the document, it is important for employers and coworkers to recognize the signs of depression in employees and coworkers in order to offer help.

Coworkers, the document notes, can support colleagues who may be going through depression by showing concern, listening without judgement and encouraging them to seek professional help when they are ready.

Additionally, if the depressed person appears to be in immediate danger, the person should not be left and efforts must be made to stay in touch to check on how the person is doing.

The document urges employers to be agents of change in the workplace and be aware of mental health issues, modify workplace risk factors for stress, develop an organizational climate that promotes wellbeing and creativity and facilitate access to healthcare for employees who may need it.

Additionally it advises that employers should be understanding and flexible to the needs of employees, understanding their personal situations, combat stigma and encourage open discussions in the workplace on mental health.

Individual employees are also encouraged to avoid burnout and improve their mental wellness in the workplace by practicing resilience and self-care, seeking help when needed, maintaining and enhancing one’s social networks, including engaging in regular exercise and leisure activities.

The WHO is also stepping up efforts this year to address the issue of mental health and the workplace.

This year, the global body, in a message, says it is planning to begin the development of a guideline on mental health in the workplace and is working closely with the Wellcome Trust, the International Labour Organization and organizations that have already accumulated vast experience in this area.

The guidelines are expected to address the actions required to help prevent, manage and overcome mental health conditions.

The message notes that excellent work has already been done to steer efforts in the right direction.

The World Economic Forum convened experts from across the world of business, academia and mental health to develop a seven-step guide towards a mentally healthy organization.

The UK organization, Time to Change, is working with more than 800 employers to help change attitudes about mental health in the workplace. These are just two initiatives that show the growing attention being paid to the importance of mental health in many areas of life.

The WHO message says what is missing however, is global guidance to help organizations ensure that the programmes and interventions they introduce are based on the best available evidence for the mental health of employees and guidance that can be used by organizations in countries of all income levels.

Time for action

Health experts are calling for more action in creating healthy workplaces and good practices that protect and promote mental health.

These should include the implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress and harmful use of psychoactive substances.

They have also pointed out to the need to involve employees in decision-making, and conveying a feeling of control and participation while promoting organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance.

Equally important, they say, is instituting programmes for career development of employees and recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.

The World Economic Forum and Global Agenda Council on Well-being and Mental Health, in a document covering 2012-2014, had noted that a healthy and satisfied population creates not only a more productive workforce, which in turn improves a country’s economic growth, but also an enhanced quality of life, leading to more sustainable development.

“There is strong evidence that increased well-being and positive mental health are linked to work productivity, high financial performance, reduced absenteeism, stronger organizational performance, pro-social behaviour and stable social networks.”

“Recognizing and stimulating well-being in workplaces and communities is essential for long-term economic and social success,” the document adds.

The Global Agenda Council on Well-being and Mental Health has urged stakeholders to make an economic case for positive mental health and well-being for business and society and put in place intervention packages for the prevention of and support for mental health problems.

By Eunice Menka
Copyright ©2019 by Creative Imaginations Publicity
All rights reserved. This article or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in reviews.

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