How mental health at workplaces must be addressed in the new normal
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How mental health at workplaces must be addressed in the new normal

How mental health at workplaces must be addressed in the new normal

Businesses that aren’t doing enough to re-think their mental well-being strategies, do so at their own peril

Gulf Business

Today employees are more anxious, stressed and burnt out than ever before. This collective mental state is compounded by rising living costs, market volatilities and global uncertainties. And the MENA region is far from immune.

According to a recent Gallup survey, employees in the MENA region were the second highest globally in feeling sad, angry and worried daily. The survey further revealed that they are the second lowest in the world when it comes to feeling engaged at the workplace.

This is worrying.

As people spend 35 per cent of their waking lives at work, creating a safe, nurturing and healthy work environment is critical. And if the well-being of the individual isn’t enough to act, poor mental health can cause an adverse impact on their productivity and the company’s own bottom line.

While the pandemic accelerated the growing employee-employer dynamic shift and stirred businesses to rethink how they can address mental health intentionally and seriously, with companies responding with initiatives like mental health days and weeks, shorter working weeks, flexibility, and introducing wellness apps for employees – this simply addresses the symptoms and not the problem as a whole.

Businesses that aren’t doing enough to re-think their mental well-being strategies, do so at their own peril – losing roughly 2,200 million workdays each year or $16.8bn in lost productivity. Furthermore, the topic of mental health is a key aspect of what appeals to Millennials and Gen Z, who are increasingly moving to jobs where they feel valued and safe. Remember both these generations now represent a large majority of the workforce.

Today, they expect employers to create an open, safe and nurturing environment that values their overall well-being – and this isn’t considered to be a bonus. It is a must. Companies that get it right report higher measures of productivity, lower absenteeism, increased trust in the employer and benefit from a culture where employees feel comfortable to talk about their mental health at work.

So, how can companies do more to address employee mental well-being in the new normal?

Firstly, employers must move from seeing mental health as an individual challenge to a collective priority. When companies recognise and adopt a healthy mental mindset for all – they can build a culture of transparency and openness that fosters a culture of mental health conversations at all levels – from the CEO down to every single employee of the company. Company leaders must lead from the front and become allies and advocates of positive mental health dialogues, helping build an environment of psychological safety that permeates through the culture of the organisation.

Addressing the stigma around mental health remains a vital and (enormous) challenge. The biggest issue is that it keeps people’s everyday mental health challenges in the shadows, and moreover prevents employers and colleagues who otherwise are willing to offer support, from being able to do so. Normalising conversations around how an employee is feeling, and what can be done to support them is critical in creating an inclusive, open culture, where active dialogue is encouraged, and where employees don’t fear retribution, but are rather empowered to go to others and ask for support.

Training your leadership team – People leaders must have an adequate knowledge on the mental health support tools available at the company, trained in ways to recognise employees who maybe struggling, and educated on the prevalence of mental health concerns, and its impact at work.

For more professional support, employers can build in mechanisms of support that are readily available for employees, that provide an avenue to speak to qualified consultants or experts confidentially about any concerns around family, relationships, stress or financial woes.

Companies that instill mental health as a core part of their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), take an important step towards retaining and attracting talent that are able to bring their best selves to work, thrive, innovate and reshape the future of work as we know it.

Because while it is commonly said that people are a company’s greatest asset, a question employers must rightly ask themselves more often is, “Are we doing enough to make them feel that way? If not, what more can we do?”

Millicent Clarke is the regional head of HR – Africa and Middle East at Standard Chartered

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