Mental health is a topic that has been highly stigmatized worldwide and more so in the African context. Great strides have been made to bring more awareness to mental health in schools, workplaces, churches, and many more. Organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Economic forum have been at the forefront of removing mental health stigma and bringing more awareness.
As evidenced by the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals, the World Health Organization indicated that there has been growing recognition of the critical role that mental health plays in achieving global development goals. In a study by the World Economic Forum, mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety were believed to have cost the global economy a whopping $US1 Trillion yearly in lost productivity.
The same study estimated that the cumulative global impact of mental disorders in terms of lost economic output will amount to $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030. The substantial impact of mental health on the global economy has prompted the need to be addressed independently as mental health in the workplace. Employee mental health has become a top priority in many organizations and has prompted employers to formulate strategies to curb the mental health crisis. One such strategy that has become popular worldwide is employee mental health programs. Employee mental health programs provide assessment and services for addressing a range of personal problems and concerns that interfere with employees wellbeing and work performance.
Employee Mental Health Issues.
Numerous factors influence the mental health of employees. Organizational issues include poor management and communication methods, little participation in decision-making, bullying and psychological harassment, long or rigid work hours, and a lack of team cohesion.
Poor mental health and stress will negatively impact an individuals ability to perform their job. Job performance and productivity, engagement, communication with coworkers, physical capability, and daily functioning are usually affected by mental health. In a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the results showed that approximately 20% of the time, depression makes it difficult for someone to fulfill physical job duties, and about 35% of the time, it impairs cognitive function. This level of interruption in an employees daily functioning is a major cause of concern. Many organizations have lost highly talented and skilled workers due to mental health problems.
First-world countries have made significant gains in addressing workplace mental health. In most African countries, there is still a significant disparity. Consider Zimbabwe, where psychological wellbeing is generally disregarded in the workplace.
For most companies, it is an issue of having very limited mental health (MH) and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) services offered in the workplace. Zimbabwe currently has 19 psychiatrists and 35 clinical psychologists against a population of 15million. This huge gap in (MH) professionals also largely contributes to the ignorance around mental health.
Most organizations in Zimbabwe do not address or even recognize the impact of mental health. A workforce struggling with mental health affects employers and national economic productivity. In the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network survey report on World Happiness, Zimbabwe was recorded as one of the top 10 unhappiest countries in the world.
Globally one in four persons will probably face a mental health issue at some point in their lives. 4.4% of the worlds population, or more than 300 million individuals, are thought to experience depression, and 800,000 people commit suicide annually. Every business must establish a culture within its workforce, and a part of that culture should be the development of environments that enable people to flourish physically and psychologically. A strategy that has become popular globally is formulating employee mental health programs that can help employees cope.
Employee Mental Health Programs
Employee mental health programs offer support to employees struggling with personal and work-related problems. These programs come as an organizational benefit to employees and are fast becoming a competitive advantage for employers. An effective employee wellbeing program will continue supporting staff long after they finish their day. Employee mental health programs are unique in each organization, and the organizations financial capabilities often determine them.
Before introducing any mental health programs, employers should evaluate their workplace culture. There are various employee mental health programmes, the most common being the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Several more programs include substance abuse treatment programs, meditation and mindfulness programs, stress management programs, resiliency programs, and many more.
Employee Assistance Programs
An employee assistance program (EAP) is an employee intervention program intended to help employees deal with personal issues that might be negatively influencing their performance. Employee assistance programs help employees deal with relationships, depression, financial problems, and other psycho/social difficulties. The programs are intended to lower hazards, save money, and increase worker productivity. Employee assistance programs are provided free of charge by independent EAP vendors or service providers who are a part of comprehensive health insurance plans.
Counselors who assist people in managing their thoughts and feelings at work can be found in EAPs. They also give legal and financial guidance, among other services. This program has proved to be effective in many organizations. The American Psychological Association reported that 37% of employees indicated that employer-provided mental health resources such as EAPs can contribute to a better work environment.
How to implement EAPs
1. Data Collection
When an organization decides to implement an EAP, it is pivotal that it understands the issues employees are going through. It is helpful for employees to fill in a wellness survey. Data from a wellness survey will help an employer to pinpoint focus areas that they would need to focus on with their EAPs
2. Plan the Structure
Once the data has been collected, the next stage would be to set a clear path on the goals and objectives you would want to get from the EAPs. It is important to have an easy-to-understand design of how the program needs to be. This will ensure that the implementation process is easy for the vendors, management, and employees.
3. Formulate a Budget
The organization must be mindful of its financial capabilities before they implement the program. EAPs come in different shapes and sizes. Some organizations may employ an in-house clinical psychologist who might be heading the program, and some organizations may choose to get vendors that offer the services. It is therefore important to make the most financially beneficial option for your organization.
4. Select the vendor
Selecting the right vendor that best suits your organization and its needs is crucial during the implementation stage. Some of the criteria to use when choosing a vendor include:
- Years of service, experience, and genuine testimonials.
- Cost of the vendor within your budget.
- Scope of services covered by the EAP.
- Geographical accessibility.
- Availability of services 24x7.
- Good customer service and satisfaction levels.
The flexibility of an EAP program makes it more successful and sustainable in the long run. Flexibility may include things such as accessibility of the services and how you can access the services. The most popular EAPs usually have 24/7 access and are available online. Employees can therefore have access to the services virtually and at any time.
6. Introduction of the program to employees
If you skip the step of explaining EAPs to your employees, the implementation wont be complete. Make sure your staff is aware of the advantages an EAP may offer them after they have a basic understanding of what it entails.
If effectively implemented, EAPs can make a big difference in improving employee mental health.
Meditation and Mindfulness Programs
Employees who engage in mindfulness practice report feeling more at ease, more focused, productive, and less stressed. Having programs that facilitate mindfulness is a great way of improving employee mental health in the workplace.
Mindfulness can assist us in deciding our behaviour by teaching us to pay attention to where we are and what we are doing in the present moment. The following are ways mindfulness training programs transform how employees work.
- Allows employees to keep an open, curious mind
- Teaches employees the skill of responding, rather than reacting
- Helps employees remember that your thoughts are not facts
- Helps employees build healthy habits that cultivate creative potential.
Stress Management Programs
Stress management programs promote overall wellbeing by providing employers and employees with tools to prevent and reduce workplace stress. Stress management programs come in different forms that include educational materials, corporate guidelines, wellbeing platforms or apps, management training, or structural alterations to the workplace. It has been demonstrated that a stress management program can assist employees in changing the negative, harmful ideas, emotional reactions, and unhealthy behavioural patterns that fuel stress.
One of the most effective ways of dealing with stress is having employees go through Cognitive Behavioural Training as part of the stress management program. CBT can help employees learn how to reframe their stress and completely transform the way they think, act and behave. CBT training would require a registered clinical psychologist to take employees through the training. The organization can opt to get an in-house psychologist for this or outsource a consultant to conduct the training.
Ways of Making Stress Management Programs Successful
To make stress management programs successful, they must include tools and resources for:
- Identifying symptoms of stress in yourself and others
- Improving emotional agility and resilience
- Removing social or environmental stressors from the physical work environment
- Managing job-specific stressors and personal stressors like money, family, health issues, and so on
- Addressing the organization’s overall impact on stress levels and morale
Resiliency employee engagement training helps by teaching workers how to identify and combat their negativity bias. Resiliency programs are much like stress management programs. In these programs, people learn strategies to adapt and interpret events more realistically, which leads to empowerment and control over their thoughts and actions.
Many companies globally have developed resilience training programs. While the programs are unique in each organization, they share many of the same sentiments, such as:
- Understanding our own locus of control
- Developing the skills of emotional regulation
- Sharpening the ability to be aware of our emotions
- Choosing to be realistically optimistic about the future
- Setting achievable goals, and wanting to fulfill them
- Understanding what is within our control
- Learning to thrive in ambiguous situations
- Developing good self-esteem
By adopting resilience programs in the workplace, employees can better deal with the demands placed on them.
Organizations can also come up with creative programs that can meet the mental health needs of their employees. These programs are meant to ensure that employees cope with the stress that comes from the work environment and those that arise from personal issues that may impact their work. When organizations customize employee wellness programs, they need to ensure they have the right people to assist them. Certain initiatives are regulated, such as counselling and therapy; hence not everyone can administer these programs.
America has been leading in promoting employees mental health in the workplace. Below is a table with statistics of organizations in America that have some form of employee mental health program. From the table, EAPs are the most popular programs.
Employee Mental Health Benefits
Several benefits come with employee mental health programs. Below are some of the benefits that are associated with mental health programs.
Increase employee productivity
Mental health issues are key in disrupting employees in performing their tasks. Employees become less motivated and creative at work, which impedes workflow.
Employee mental health programs increase the productivity of employees. These programs help an employee take care of all the difficulties they face. Be it the difficulties at work, monetary assistance, or disputes inside the workplace. This helps in reducing unnecessary distractions and helping them focus more on their jobs.
Lower medical claims
Mental health disorders are costly to an organization. Take depression, for instance, employees who suffer from depression are likely to get other secondary health challenges such as high blood pressure and sugar diabetes, to mention a few. Suppose organizations can implement employee mental health programs effectively, they may be able to cut costs on medical claims from employees as they will be able to assist their employees before their health problems escalate.
Reduced turnover and Retention of Skilled talent
Many employees resort to leaving their jobs if they feel overwhelmed with their mental health. Mental health programs can help employees cope and manage their work. This will ensure employees do not let go of their jobs. Organizations with these programs can also leverage this as a competitive advantage and attract skilled talent. In research done by McKinsey, data revealed that providing mental health support for Gen Z is critical for employers from a workforce recruitment and retention perspective. Based on the same research 57 percent of Gen Z employees who were polled think that mental health services are crucial when opting to stay at a company, and 60 percent of Gen Z employees feel that they are vital when choosing an employer.
Reduced absenteeism and sick leave
Research suggests that a workforce facing mental health challenges will have high absenteeism. Employee health programs significantly reduce absenteeism, as employees can raise their concerns and have them addressed.
Work can become a safe space for employees, and they can feel encouraged to come to work and perform their tasks. An employee assistance program makes a speedy settlement of personal issues possible, allowing workers to concentrate on their jobs rather than mental health and family matters.
More than ever, addressing mental health in the workspace and formulating programs that help employees cope has become essential. The first-world countries have adopted these programs well. It is a competitive advantage and works as a tool to retain and attract top talent. There is still a big gap in Africa. Every organization must make it a top priority to implement employee mental health programs.
Mutsawashe Musvaire is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.
Phone: +263 242 481946-48/481950