It is always important to recall that the World Health Organization’s definition of health is a
state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. And to remember that these three
components of health are not mutually exclusive but very closely intertwined. A problem in
one area of health often exerts an influence on other aspects. Thus, it goes without saying
that what goes on in the work place, the culture and ambience, will impact on our physical
as well as mental well-being. How can we improve mental health in the work place for
The major problems in most work environments stem from oppressive superiors; bullying,
insults, humiliation and embarrassment; psychological, physical or sexual harassment; work
overload; hostile and unfriendly environment; poor or irregular remuneration and rigid
working hours and lack of consideration or flexibility for example – to pregnant or nursing
What can we do:
- Talk about the problem: Suggest, if it does not currently exist, the introduction of a 5-
10 minutes’ health talk during staff meetings. This is easy to justify, as everyone
would like to get free health tips. Or share these articles for example, and stimulate
discussions in your office.
- Engage with your Employers: Help Employers and the Management Staff to
appreciate that it is to their benefit to invest in the emotional wellbeing of their staff.
Happy and motivated staff are more productive and loyal. It is estimated that the lost
productivity, due to depression and anxiety alone costs 1 trillion US dollars every
- Be nice to each other: Encourage everyone to be nice and to have a warm and
friendly office environment. When you are nice to each other, it stimulates the
release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. These helps to lift your mood, makes you
feel cared for and appreciated, and increases your alertness and motivation to work.
Such a work environment is one you would look forward to every day.
- Mentor junior colleagues. It was clear from the scenarios utilized previously that in
every work environment – regardless of whether it was in hospitals or the
educational sector, senior colleagues often come across as harsh and intolerant
bullies to their younger colleagues. Sometimes, you find an adult so completely
shattered by how harshly he or she has been dealt with by a superior at work, that they simply break down and weep. We should be more humane and considerate even while correcting mistakes.
- Equity and justice as guiding principles. Equality, is a concept that is very different
from equity. Equality implies giving to A exactly what has been given to B. But B may
not be in need of what was given to A, or A may actually require say 80% while B
genuinely requires only 20%. Allocating according to need is equity. For example, it is
clear that a pregnant woman who has just put to bed is certainly in greater need of
time to recuperate and nurse the new born baby for a while, than the father. Thus, it
is equitable for women to have a long maternity leave.
- Reduce Stigma and discrimination: Many people with a diagnosis of mental health
challenges are too ashamed and embarrassed to come out. For fear that people will
laugh at them, dismiss them as lazy or no longer consider them worthy of any
- Provide a supportive and enabling environment for people to feel safe to share their
health challenges – knowing they will receive support and understanding.
- Stop workplace harassment and bullying: The organization should have zero
tolerance for workplace bullies who psychologically terrorize other workers, or
engage in physical or sexual harassment in the workplace. Their punishment should
- Appreciate and reward loyalty and hard work: There is a lot of satisfaction in being
appreciated and rewarded for hard work. Even if it is a small ceremony at the end of
each month, quarter, or year; simple words of appreciation for outstanding staff and
some reward will go a long way to help them feel appreciated and valued.
- Flexible working hours: In many countries across the world, there is increasing
recognition that you don’t have to come to the office from 8am to 4 pm every
weekday to be productive. So, in some companies and organizations, staff can
negotiate days to work from home, or agree to work half days, or some days in a
week, in order to have time for other things such as looking after a child with a
disability at home; or to accommodate picking the children from school.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 24th August 2023