As we celebrate Workers’ Day in May every year, it is pertinent to reiterate that a healthy worker is a happy and productive worker. But what is good health? The World Health Organization’s definition of health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Please 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 workplace, the culture and ambience, will impact our physical as well as mental well-being. How can we improve mental health in the workplace for everyone?
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 mothers.
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 this article 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 well-being 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 year.
- Be nice to each other: Encourage everyone to be nice and to have a warm and friendly office environment. When you are nice to others, it stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. This help 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 should be clear that in every work environment – 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 had a baby is certainly in greater need of time to recuperate and nurse the newborn baby for a while than the father. Thus, it is equitable for women to have a longer maternity leave, than what is approved as paternity leave.
- Reduce Stigma and Discrimination: Many people with a diagnosis of mental health challenges are too ashamed and embarrassed to admit it in the workplace or with Human Resources (HR) personnel. This is simply due to fear that people will laugh at them, dismiss them as lazy or no longer consider them worthy of any responsibility.
- Provide a supportive and enabling environment for people to feel safe to share their health challenges – knowing they will receive support and understanding. HR should be supportive of personnel, and not viewed as a department that is always out to get you.
- 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 be decisive.
- 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 – 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 etc.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 6th October 2022
What can we do: