It is a well-known fact now that the biggest crisis facing the world right now is that of mental health. There are several reports from all around the world including WHO, IPSOS, American Psychiatric Association that suggest that 6 in 10 employees are currently experiencing poor mental health at this time.
This fact is not at all surprising given the level of uncertainty that we are all subjected to currently. And the human mind always seeks certainty and predictability.
In addition to the pandemic, there are several other factors that pose as triggers for poor mental health in workplaces such as long hours and no breaks, unrealistic expectations or deadlines, overly pressurised working environments unmanageable workloads, or lack of control over work inability to use annual leave, high-risk roles, lone working, poor relationships with managers, poor internal communication, poor managerial support, job insecurity, etc. some of which have also increased in work from home situation brought on by the pandemic.
In the background of this crisis, there are some organisations that are still working from home, the others are taking a phased approach to return to work and a few are fully going back to normal just like the ‘Pre-COVID’ times.
In either of the three cases, senior leaders, as well as HR professionals, are now recognising the importance of including Mental Health and Wellness as an integral part of the Employee Assistance Programme.
It is expected that this pandemic will perhaps continue for a foreseeable future with varying intensities at different points in time. That makes it absolutely essential to have a plan where the EAPs focus on Mental Health as THE key component.
Having consulted a few organisations on their mental needs in the last few months, in my experience, a good mental health plan has 4 key tenets. They are:
Tenet 1: Create a Plan and Communicate It
The mental health at work plan ideally should detail what support is available to employees if they are experiencing poor mental health whether it is due to problems inside or outside of work.
Regular collection and diagnostics of data on the current mental health status of employees are collected so that there can be risk assessment and an informed action plan.
Part two of this tenet is ensuring proper communication about the availability and accessibility of these tools. Communication is done in a way that tells the employees that organisation ‘cares’ not just about the productivity of the employee but her/him as a ‘whole person’. These actions inspire a great deal of confidence in the organisation’s intentions to foster lasting relationships.
The communication should not just happen within the organisation but also outside such the employer branding material to state ‘We care about mental health at least as much as physical health of employees’
Making these tools, information, and support system accessible also helps propel mental health awareness among employees.
Tenet 2: Encourage Conversations That Remove the Stigma
Conversations help people understand mental health. Improving mental health awareness is the best way to beat stigma. Therefore, provide staff with reliable information. This can be done in various ways. Regularly organising talks with psychologists is a great place to start talking about mental health.
We are naturally inclined to believe that there is no right place to talk about mental health. But the more we talk about it, the better life is for all of us.
Leaders can start by sharing their experiences. This helps employees infer and adopt the view that mental health issues can happen to anyone and they can be treated. So leaders, lead by example. Convey to employees that the organisations support people going through these issues.
Recruiting mental health Champions from within the organisation is yet another sub-tenet. Champions are self-appointed employees at any level of your organisation who help challenge stigma and change the way employees think and act about mental health.
Tenet 3: Create a Caring and Positive Work Environment
There are several ways in which the leaders can provide employees with good working conditions and ensure they have a healthy work/life balance and opportunities for development.
- Make it first on the agenda: Managers can start team meetings by checking in with staff to see how they’re doing and what’s causing them stress. Or create a ‘Mental Wellbeing Forum’ where people talk about stress and wellbeing as a group.
- Avoid long hours and solo work: A disruption to work-life balance can make us feel pressured leading to quick burnout whereas working alone can make us feel isolated. Leaders, HR, as well as line managers, can be mindful of these factors and provide some flexibility in working hours and opportunities for team interactions.
- Ensure Healthy Communication: Healthy communication is regular, simple to understand, and 2-way. If communication is clear, open, effective, and responsive, staff will be able to access all the information they need to do their job while avoiding overload. This will make them feel included.
- Provide opportunities for ‘Continuous Professional Development: Research suggests that employees need to feel valued, supported and that their work is meaningful. A positive culture that values all staff and invests in their professional development builds the trust and integrity essential to maintain commitment and productivity levels. Build the managers KRAs to ensure that giving staff development opportunities where possible is an integral part of their responsibility.
Tenet 4: Train All Line Managers in Mental Health at Workplace Program
There are several evidence-based programs that are specifically designed for HR departments and line managers that enable them to act as mental health first aid responders. National Network of Depression Centres India Foundation (NNDCIF) is one such program that has been developed by Loyola University Chicago.
These programs arms one with knowledge on recognition symptoms of common mental health disorder, the impact they have on various aspects of our lives – personal and professional and what the right steps are to tackle them in early stages.
This investment is known to save millions due to direct impact it has on employee productivity.
In a nutshell…
Investing resources in mental health right now is not ‘nice to do’ but a must-do. Many mental health professionals and business psychologists today are of the view that Mental Health at workplace is a non-negotiable and the only way we will move from surviving to thriving.