Mental Health in Workplace – Part I

Depression and anxiety, has affected an estimated 264 million people across globe. From a financial point of view, this costs around US$ 1 Trillion of the global economy because of lost productivity as estimated by a recent WHO-led research study. A negative work environment can lead to substance abuse, addiction, etc which causes absenteeism which ultimately results in lost productivity. This correlation between mental health of employees and productivity can be exploited by organisations which will lead to a win-win situation.

Work-related risk factors for health

There may be various unpredictable risk factors for mental health in a workplace but the ones that employers and government need to identify are the predictable and preventable factors that could be present. Eliminating such risk factors are the primary step needed to make the workplace, healthy and positive. Majority of such risk factors relate to interactions between the work or job carried out, the organisational peers and managerial environment, the competencies of employees, and the support available for them to do their job.

Key factors include:

  • workload – either over exploiting or under exploiting one’s capacity;
  • lack of participation, interaction and control in the workplace;
  • repetitive and unpleasant tasks;
  • ambiguity in one’s role;
  • conflicting job tasks or objectives;
  • lack of recognition or appreciation;
  • lack of priority to health and safety;
  • poor interpersonal relationships;
  • poor working conditions;
  • poor leadership, professionalism and management practices;
  • low or no support from higher authorities;
  • poor communication;
  • lack of participation in decision making process
  • physical exhaustion;
  • lack of control for harassment, mobbing, bullying or violence
  • stress or anxiety or peer pressure;
  • lack of social support or cohesion in team;
  • exploitation by peers or higher authorities;
  • lack of supervisory roles to control substance abuse;
  • lack of balance between home and work demands.

Some jobs involves comparatively higher risk such as fire fighters, army personnel, healthcare workers, etc., irrespective of such variables, employers and government should work on the risk factors common, frequent, preventable and identifiable. WHO has been continually working on developing guidelines, programs, training modules etc., to enumerate the objectives, targets and devise a plan accordingly, to establish mental health to be treated equal priority as physical health across globe.

Creating a Healthy Work Environment

An employer has a legal responsibility to provide the health, safety and welfare of the employees. This includes ensuring the mental health of employees within the workplace.

Specific ways in which mental health can be promoted are:

Mental health strategies has to detailed by an organisation to promote and improve mental health and wellbeing of employees. Support from managerial roles and counselling assistance service should be ensured.

Review and modify company policies such that it includes support and assistance for employees whenever they have a problem in a workplace. The company has to ensure that all the employees are aware of policies and services provided for them.

A platform for employees to communicate their grievances, is essential in a workplace because this creates a space where the employees can openly communicate  their issues and ask questions to the employers. This is also beneficial for employers because it gives them a chance to resolve the issue or convince them verbally, so that the employees feel heard, acknowledged and supported.

Measuring progress is necessary step to bring a substantial change regarding mental health in the workplace. Company policy on mental health should be devised in such a way that each objective has targets and the targets also have indicators that are measurable and repeatable.

Create a balanced work routine for employees such that exhaustive, laborious or hazardous works are not recurring for the same employee in a particular period of time. And the workplace culture should be cultivated in such a way that every employee is valued and are not humiliated or disregarded publicly.

Positive work relationships must be inculcated in an organisation.  The work environment should foster diplomacy and professionalism for better interpersonal relationship and healthy work ambience. When professionalism is backed up with policies, the employees are required to practice it as a part of their job which creates a space for employees to cultivate healthy social interaction and develop interpersonal skills.

Fostering employee engagement is the best way to know the views, ideas and insights of their employee. World’s most successful companies stands out from the rest because of their ability to engage their employees. When the company culture is built in a way to foster healthy and positive atmosphere that values employees engagement, it not only creates integrity and reputation among employees but also benefits by more productivity, innovation and profit.

Removing the stigma surrounding mental health, is inevitably important especially in our country, because it is not an issue that can be ignored. Mental health problems affect approximately 2/3rd of the population, but many find their only solution to be suicide or to suffer in silence. Such an issue on being silenced and stigmatized will only create more anxiety, and stress for people having mental health disorders. Mental health problems if found in early stages can be prevented or at least mitigated with appropriate medications and therapy. Organisations promoting such issues to be spoken out by employees in forums can act as a catalyst for the larger society to begin changing.

Initiatives by the company must be taken by identifying the major risk factors involved in their workplace that could lead to both negative work environment and mental health issues. Programs such as substance abuse awareness, violence prevention programs, interpersonal and professional skill development, stress prevention campaigns, awareness on company policies against harassment, discrimination, and bullying.

Conclusion

With a pandemic to battle industries are finding themselves in a tight spot. Often compelled to lay-off for cost-cutting purposes. In the current scenario, unemployment and lay-offs are predictable and in some cases reasonable due to the global recession led by coronavirus. In such a situation mental health is the most relevant hazard that employers should recognize and plan accordingly for workers both returning to work and welcomed into the company. Mental health is an integral and inevitable component of health. The employers on reopening after lockdown, should consider appeasing employees for helping them to reduce the anxiety caused due to the unprecedented situation and also to avoid incidents caused by panic. The employers should handle lay-off’s very sensitively and provide them with as much support that an organization can afford.

Written By –

Renuka Ravinder

UPES Dehradun

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