Mental Health in the Workplace
I ran a poll on LinkedIn to find out people’s opinions who should bear the responsibility for mental health in the workplace; 65% of the 86 respondents believed it should be the employer’s duty and 34% believed it should be the duty of both parties. What do you think?
From my point of view, the responsibility cannot be left on only employers, everyone has a role to play in this dynamic work environment. To arrive at an objective conclusion, it is relevant to first understand the concept of mental health, its importance in the workplace and finally appreciate the terms of engagement between the employer and employee.
What is mental health?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health is defined as, “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.”
Mental Health is therefore explained as the particular condition someone is in at a specific time where their mind is comfortable, healthy and happy. In this state of mind, one has less issues to think about and one is able to operate at their highest potential to their own benefit and the community they find themselves in, including the workplace.
Importance of mental health
Prior to the pandemic, I was of the view that although what happens outside of work is not the employer’s load to carry, it indirectly affects the employee’s productivity. I am by no means, saying that the workplace should become a dumping ground or curing place for issues but a safe environment should be provided to aid all humans (both parties) to be in a safe place mentally. This would hopefully minimise any spillovers into other aspects of the individual’s life to prevent a downward spiral. Unfortunately, with the advent of the pandemic and the intricacies of working from home, the significance of paying attention to mental health in every aspect of our lives has been highlighted and the workplace is no exception.
According to WHO, anxiety and depression have a negative impact on the global economy with US$1 trillion estimated annually in lost productivity. Most importantly, improvement in health and productivity increases 4 times per any US$1 invested in the treatment of mental health disorders. If this US$1 trillion estimated to be lost in productivity were to be invested into mental well-being programmes that would mean a gain of US$4 trillion in productivity. Now do the math!
Recognising mental health is therefore important and failing to acknowledge this can result in lowered productivity, increased turnover and higher healthcare costs. Employees now prefer to work with employers who are concerned about their mental health and its been known to be one of the reasons employees resign. According to a 2019 survey in the US by Mind Share Partners, 50% of millennials and 75% of Gen Zs have left a job for mental health reasons which is very relatable. I have taken decisions like this and I know colleagues who have done same. In terms of health care, poor mental health can affect our physical health which invariably results in higher health care costs and coverage.
Contract of employment
The contract of employment between an employer and an employee is an exchange agreement where the employee provides services to the employer in return for a specified remuneration from the employer. The agreement also clearly indicates the rights and responsibilities of each party. The big question is, why should the employer be concerned about the employee’s mental health? At the end of the day it was not a 24/7 contract that was agreed on by both parties. On the assumption that the employee’s mental health becomes a priority at the workplace, whose responsibility would it be to ensure the employer’s mental health concerns are also met? The employer is also human like his or her employees and does not possess any superhuman powers and abilities after all.
In the same vein, an employee would chose not to work with a toxic employer, the employer also has a choice to make with the kind of employees they work with. It might be time to start including mental health roles and responsibilities of an employer and employee in the employment contract to make everything clear from the start of the contract.
My personal experience
I used to get so worked up whenever I had a bad day at work. I observed that whenever the stress was too much to handle, it either affected my communication with team members or my effectiveness at taking decisions. I either had to complain to a colleague to destress or continue working despite my state of mental health. Ignoring my mental health meant I got to end the day by taking the ‘beautiful’ gift of a throbbing headache and a worst version of my self back home to my family. They deserve a better gift that this.
I have experienced worst moments where I have doubted my strengths and abilities and cried my eyes out too. The sad aspect is that it trickled down into my personal life and I was unleashing my frustration on my family. My heart would be thumping and I would be stressed out even before the start of work. I was not the best version of myself and I had to eventually quit with the support of my husband. In hard times, we need money but it should not be at the expense of your mental health and frustrating the lives of those who truly love you.
I need the money but my mental health is suffering
The sad reality is, not everyone has that power to walk out when the job affects their mental health. Leaving would mean, the possibility of entering into another negative mental health phase of surviving to making ends meet which defeats the whole purpose. In my case, I decided to use music (listen to gospel tracks and more importantly categorise my music into the moods I wanted to achieve ie. happy, calm etc) and use my lunch breaks effectively (take a walk, get fresh air or engage in a non-work conversation in the office or call my husband or a friend). It didn’t solve the problem completely but it certainly provided a renewed energy to continue with the remaining half of the day.
Learn to find purpose no matter how difficult it may be BUT first pray about it and start working on a backup plan in the meantime till you eventually find a much better place to develop your self and career. Make good use of your leave days and weekends and use the effect of the bad working environment to inspire and spur you on to positive change. Whilst you are it, be conscious of your mental health and when you feel there is no way you can keep holding on and you know deep within you it’s not serving you then please step out before its too late.
Responsibility of the employer and the employee
Everyone has a role to play in the workplace, however it is important to recognise that even when structures are in place to assist employees, it is important that employers also demonstrate their commitment by utilising these company implemented policies. The impact would be greater when employees see that the structures in place does not segregate between an employer and employee. It would result in both parties thriving effectively in the workplace and foster more teamwork and cooperation to achieve the goals of the organisation.
This image from BetterUp perfectly summarises the role of each party in promoting proper mental well-being in the workplace.
Finally, in a separate post I will share the results of a survey I conducted to explore the following:
- Whether the state of one’s mental health affects their productivity at work;
- Whether workplaces have policies in place to support their mental health;
- Policies that companies have in place to support mental health for those that do;
- What the workplace can do to support mental health; and finally my favourite,
- Celebrate identified companies and individuals who have been supportive of workplace mental health.
What are you doing to promote your mental health at work? How has your company contributed to ensuring proper mental well-being at work? Let me know in the comments and share this post with the everyone!
The OMT brand focuses on inspiration, family life, entrepreneurship, youth and women empowerment and changing the African narrative a blog post at a time. If you have a story or experience to share or need answers to questions just reach out to me via firstname.lastname@example.org.