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Mapping The Future

Mental health and why we in business should care about it

In my opinion, one of the integral aspects of shaping a competitive future is the welfare and health of our workforce.

Let’s start with a reality check: If one of your employees calls in sick with the flu—it’s easy for us to understand it, yes? But if and when an employee takes a sick leave because of mental illness, it’s likely that it will not get the same level of understanding.

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Society presents mental health as something that will make you feel like walking on eggshells. What is it exactly?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Admittedly, especially in the past, people try to avoid talking about it. How then do we address something that we don’t want to talk about?

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October—being Mental Health Month—is a good time to start talking and caring about mental health.

I will not claim to be an expert on this topic as we have medical experts who can talk more in depth, and with scientific authority—but I choose to write about this topic to rally the business sector to care about and invest in improving the mental health of its employees.

The WHO in its 2018 report says that “1 in 4 people or 25% of the global population will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.” Also, that about 450 million people in the world currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

While there are treatments available, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder do not seek help from professionals due to the strong stigma, discrimination, and neglect that prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders.

Mental health concerns come with stigma. This prevents us from talking about it, educating each other about it, and getting the right help for those who need it.

Those who are struggling with mental health issues have a tendency to hide these for fear of judgment and discrimination from peers and superiors. This is not good for workforce morale, and more so, it’s not good for business.

In fact, a 2016 WHO-led study on mental health illnesses and the global return on investment on treatments estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. The study also added that a negative working environment could lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism, and lost productivity.

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These are the realities. What then can we do about it? Following are my suggestions:

The struggle is real. The first thing to acknowledge and accept is that this may never become a comfortable concern to tackle, especially for management. However, it’s everybody’s responsibility to ensure that this is recognized and addressed.

Review and update company policies. While company culture and practices can be flexible, policy will always be a little bit more rigid. Employers and human resource practitioners alike need to think holistically about their employees and consider flexible working arrangements and/or mental health days. This way, the workforce is given the resources they need to perform their best, which ultimately benefits both the employee and the company. If we retain doctors and nurses for the physical health of our employees, how about providing an “in-house” psychiatrist for their mental health?

To share a concrete example, Starbucks recently publicized that while they already have an existing mental health package, their employees are not taking full advantage of these benefits. Their new efforts will now focus on educating managers about the range of mental health problems, help them identify signs, and to make mental health services more accessible to all employees.

Promote work-life harmony. This is an essential aspect of a healthy work environment and we constantly advocate for employers to offer flexible work options and do away with the toxic work culture of “boss-employee face times” and unnecessary overworking.

We are in the cusp of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and as the workplace is evolving, we should be more focused on results rather than outdated practices.

Challenge the stigma by creating safe spaces. It’s important to create safe spaces for people to talk about their own challenges without fear that this may affect their careers or how they get treated at work. Companies must adapt and eventually provide support. Employers and managers cannot always expect employees to share or disclose their situations, but it’s the company’s responsibility to create a culture where the workforce can feel safe, accepted, and cared for.

It’s 2019. It’s time we talk about mental health, it’s time we invest in it, and most of all, as business leaders, it’s time we act on it.

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