Author and training specialist Devan Moonsamy shares his thoughts on how the workplace can help improve staff mental health status.
South Africa (14 October 2021) – World Mental Health Day was acknowledged on the 10th of October, and it has once again highlighted the plight to address the stigma around mental health issues. It has also brought about the much-needed conversation around personal well-being. Whether it is a family member battling with anxiety or a friend struggling with depression, issues around mental health have started to come up in the conversation.
However, as much as we have made strides to opening our hearts to comfort and support our beloveds, it should also be the same for our colleagues. Why is it that we are sensitive to the needs of our own but not of those of our fellow staff members? What has prevented the openness and acceptance of people who work with us and battle mental health issues daily?
The answer is simple; we choose to expect every team member or individual to work with the same vigour and enthusiasm as us or our favourite colleagues. The lack of support in the workplace, coupled with deadlines and targets, prevent us from allowing people to slow down when they need to.
The workplace is a rat race. Most people are competing with the next, and as a result, they tend to shut down any talk of mental health issues. The other reason why the conversation never comes up is that staff members don’t want to be viewed as weak. In many organisations, the discussion around mental health or health issues is seen as weak and stagnant.
This needs to change. Staff can perform optimally and still need to tap out now and then. But as much as we can provoke the discussion to occur, this might not happen.
Here’s how to improve the situation around mental health subjects in the workplace:
- Start with the basics, implement an open-door policy. Encourage staff to feel like they can come to you and engage with you on any issues they might be experiencing. Sometimes the mental health issues are not only caused by work. They can be personal and even be the reason why staff might not be progressing or producing results.
- If it is possible, get an in-house or psychologist that can assist with trauma and other sensitive issues that staff might need help with. In fact, having a qualified professional available for staff to talk to could help improve the team members performance. Staff members are losing family members as a result of Covid-19 and as the process of grieving continues having someone in the workplace to speak with can help with improving their mental health state.
- Do not disregard someone dealing with depression. It could be the workload, toxic work environment or negative attitude from colleagues that could be contributing to the status of someone’s mental health. Work is stressful, and meeting deadlines can be exhausting. We can suss out how staff are feeling by having regular touch-base sessions with staff. Meetings and motivational gatherings of staff for a bit can improve their quality of work and their attitude at work.
- If we identify that an employee is struggling with their mental health perhaps, they might benefit from working in a group instead of working alone. Make the workplace a space where people can engage and want to be with each other. Not one in which people are working in isolation. When possible, allow for work from home periods. This can also help in cases where people are feeling the burn out at the office and don’t feel motivated to come to work. By having this option available will encourage staff to feel respected and valued at the organisation. This can also improve their mental health status and also motivate them to want to perform better at work.
Devan Moonsamy is the CEO of ICHAF Training Institute, a South African TVET College. He is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute.