A walk down the “mental health” path – towards the silver lining
The COVID-19 pandemic had a tremendous impact on businesses across the world. With livelihood and economy, employees had to face another challenge: its impact on their emotional well-being.
According to recent research, 42% of worldwide workers have encountered a decrease in psychological wellness since the pandemic started. With subsequent waves of the virus, awareness about mental health increased.
Employee Mental Health
World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and can contribute to his or her community.”
Psychological well-being is crucial to our combined and individual capacity as humans to think, act, collaborate, earn a living, and appreciate life. On this premise, the advancement, assurance, and rebuilding of emotional wellness can be regarded as an indispensable concern of individuals, communities, and societies worldwide.
Mental health issues and their repercussions in the workplace have always been a tough nut to crack.
Despite the existence of workplaces where mental health is not paid attention to, it should be noted that over the past few years, several organizations have taken the initiative to introduce and implement various measures to help employees with their mental health and create a safe and transparent space to talk about mental health.
What is the cost of poor mental health at work? How is it taking a toll on workplace productivity?
According to Deloitte, between 2011 and 2030, the cumulative economic output loss associated with mental health difficulties is projected to be $16.3 trillion worldwide. The three following concepts must be factored into it for better understanding:
- Presenteeism is the act of showing up for work generally due to ill health and not performing at full ability.
- Absenteeism refers to an employee’s habitual absence from work—usually intentional and without any good reason.
- Employee turnover cost refers to tangible and intangible expenses associated with replacing an employee.
Presenteeism and Absenteeism are firmly connected. While numerous people with repeating or prolonged mental health conditions can work at an all-out limit, presenteeism happens when people come into work when they are unwell (with poor psychological well-being) and work at a decreased degree of productivity or viability. This can, in turn, have a deleterious effect on social connections with coworkers.
Why is there a surge in mental health problems during the pandemic?
A pandemic is more than just a medical emergency; it affects people and society, causing chaos, fear, tension, stigma, and xenophobia. With the covid wave hitting the globe during the early months of 2020 and the rapid transmission of the virus, nations have enforced multiple new laws to curb the spread of the virus by breaking the chain. These included regional lockdowns, isolation, social distancing, and temporary cessation of educational institutes, workplaces, and entertainment hubs.
Quarantine and self‐isolation can most likely harm one’s mental health. An individual’s activity significantly impacts the nature of a pandemic, including the magnitude, flow, and after-effects. According to a 2021 review published in The Lancet, separation from loved ones, loss of freedom, boredom, and uncertainty can cause a deterioration in an individual’s psychological state.
The KFF Health Tracking poll published in 2021 showed that many adults are also experiencing specific adverse effects on their mental well-being. For example, issues like troubled sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increased alcohol intake or drug use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%) owing to worry and tension due to the pandemic were on the rise.
What is the stigma around mental health in the workplace?
While mental health issues are becoming more widely recognized, we still live in a world where people with mental illnesses face prejudice and have difficulty accessing the care they need. Many distressed individuals tend to hide their feelings and do not talk about their mental health issues because of fear of prejudice and embarrassment. They are afraid of how others will respond.
Building workplace environments where employees feel free to be themselves makes it easier for people to talk about mental health issues without fear and more open to reaching out for support when needed. Nonetheless, the decision to report work-related discomfort is a personal one. Hence, workplaces must evolve and not rush the process.
Is there something we can do as leaders? What do we owe our employees?
Even in uncertain adversities, the role of a leader remains the same: support and motivate your team members. That includes supporting them psychologically as well. Employers can play an essential role in empowering the early discovery of depression and other psychological wellness conditions by improving admittance to the mind. Leaders can start by showing empathy, recognizing the stressors that lead to dysfunctional behavior in the work environment, and edifying their employees that accepting assistance does not indicate weakness.
Strategy for leaders:
Let your guard down – The pandemic’s bright side is normalizing mental health issues.
Humans worldwide have experienced some level of discomfort during this pandemic. Suppose leaders come out in the open and share their stories of discomfort. In that case, it will decrease the stigma and pave the way for employees to feel comfortable talking about their challenges.
Have a Framework:
Charity begins at home. Leaders can create, follow and share their model healthy behaviors of prioritizing self-care with the employees; that keeps them from burnout!
Ask, listen and make space:
Deliberately checking in on your colleague, sending a “How are you?”, and having a conversation regularly is more critical now than ever. People have lost their dear ones; the lifestyle has taken a hit with job losses – a little act of ‘checking in’ goes a long way.
Though the pandemic encouraged flexibility in terms of the work model, there were instances of inconvenience for employees to work remotely.
In a 2021 study of executives, while 30% of the respondents said that their employees’ productivity had increased, 20% said that their employees’ productivity had decreased. It is essential that remote workers, especially parents and caretakers, should have the liberty to set their schedules and accommodate accordingly.
How can technology help?
Technology is everywhere now, even venturing into the mental health space. With people seeking help online, and therapy happening on online platforms, several applications have also been developed to help people fight the wellness war.
Applications like Intellect, WYSA, and Youper were created to help people use trackers, develop routines, connect with people to share personal experiences, and helping them to reach out to clinicians and coaches.
It has been two years since the pandemic, and sections still suffer from its repercussions. Learning from the pandemic, it is time that workplaces create a safe space for their employees to establish a mental health-friendly, positive culture.
This below-mentioned mantra from WHO may seem simple, but trying to follow it may be the first step toward a positive and healthy outlook on life:
- Be kind to your mind and others.
- Connect with others.
- Keep to a healthy routine.
- Reach out for help if you need it.
- And finally! Pause. Breathe. Reflect.