Thursday 15 November, 2018

World Mental Health Day 2017: Mental Health in the workplace

By Meisha-Gay Mattis

Today, October 10, is being observed as World Mental Health Day. I particularly love this year’s theme, Mental Health in Workplace, as it provides a great opportunity for employers to engage in the conversation and focus on the mental health and wellbeing of their most valued resources — their staff.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Even though more people today are being diagnosed with mental disorders, I truly believe that as a society in Jamaica, we place too little emphasis on mental health due to being ill-informed. Our nonchalant attitude makes it tough for those who are plagued with any of these issues to seek help.

Ensuring good mental health in the workplace should be a priority all year round, but I’ll take the opportunity to share with employers and employees why now is as good a time as any to take a good look at this important issue. A typical individual spends at least 90,000 hours working, which accounts for approximately anywhere between ⅓ to ½ of one's waking hours doing work-related activities. We spend a lot of time at work, which makes the office place akin to a second home. That makes it the perfect opportunity and place to address mental health.

Work can be stressful and make it difficult to find time for yourself and prioritize your mental health. Work helps us to provide the basics we all need, from food, clothing and shelter to even a purposeful meaning to our lives. Many of us work to live, while some live to work. It’s a never ending cycle until the age of retirement, I would say. Work is a key driver of both happiness and stress for us all, and as such, I often encourage employers to look beyond merely providing an nutritional education and an avenue for employees to exercise as a basic wellness initiative, but to highlight key aspects that contributes to total wellness.

 

Technology – A Blessing or A Curse?

Technology increases flexibility in the workplace, but it also elevates stress, which in turn affect our mental capacity. It provides us the ability to be in constant contact with our bosses, which sometimes leaves us in work mode all the time. Technology has significantly intruded on our lives and slowly erased the line between our work lives and our private lives.

We are now expected to be available to respond to late night emails and early morning calls from bosses and colleagues, or provide instantaneous responses to querying customers, all while trying to make dinner for our families and get to bed before midnight. Even more so if your job includes collaboration across different hemispheres and time zones, as technology allows today, resulting in more more infringement on evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Though experts are yet to grasp the true cost and impact of technology and the 24/7 work culture, they've all agreed that the inability to unplug has become a fact and is a major source of stress in modern working life, which impacts us even after work is done. The more the lines between work and home are blurred, we are slowly seeing how this cycle can be vicious or virtuous. In the vicious cycle, employees may bring underlying poor health and personal issues to the workplace, which may result in being disengaged, uninspired and unmotivated. Inversely, in the virtuous cycle, employees who feel healthy and balanced bring energy, focus and motivation to the workplace and are more productive.

 

Confronting the Challenge

We have to understand the issue by first confronting, challenging and then trying to change the stigma that will help us to understand mental health problems. Around the world, employees are becoming more unwell, more stressed and less engaged at work. This provides the platform for organizations to engage in more wellness activities on-site for the simple reason that it positively affects productivity and growth. A healthy, motivated and energized workforce is more likely to feel positive, have sharper minds, be better at making decisions, and be more effective and efficient at their jobs.

An unstable workplace where the job is stressful and the office culture is hostile, unsafe and aggressive can lead to mental health issues for staff members. According to the World Federation For Mental Health Day (WFMH), “Mental health issues have been shown to increase employee absenteeism, lower rates of productivity and increased costs.” Over time, mental and emotional distress from this kind of environment can lead directly to chronic diseases.

On the other hand, a wholesome place of work can provide a healthy social setting and give us a sense of purpose or accomplishment, such as when we feel appreciated by our customers, when we have camaraderie with our colleagues, or when our work has made a positive impact in the world. These positive feelings can improve our emotional and mental wellness, as well as our physical health.

Some companies are taking the concept of employee wellness to a whole different level, addressing multiple aspects of individual wellness, from physical and mental health and work-life balance, to fair pay, the organization of work itself, and the alignment of work with employees’ intrinsic motivations.

As the nature of work continues to change, particularly in how millennials view it, you will find that employers who do not view human capital as their most valuable resource may not stay in business in the future economy. Lack of balance, coupled with the prospects for burnout and absence of autonomy are definite turn-offs. The present generation refuses to be solely motivated by a big salary, isn’t loyal to any one job, and values free time and flexibility. Given the increased access to information, they are now taking responsibility for their own wellness as it relates to the context of work.

Contributed by Meisha-Gay Mattis, founder of Bodhi, a Kingston-based holistic wellness company. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer. Email meisha@ourbodhi.com for more information or visit any of the following 

Website - www.ourbodhi.com

FB - www.facebook.com/ourbodhi

IG - @ourbodhi.com

Twitter - @ourbodhi.com

 

 

Pryce-Jones, J. (2010). Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Rutledge, T. (2005). Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty. Ontario, Canada: Mattanie Press. p. 25.

Regus (2015, January 7). Majority on brink of stress [Press release]. Retrieved from http://press.regus.com/hong-kong/majority-on-brink-of-stress.

Regus (2012, September 27). Too stressed to give your best? [Press release]. Retrieved from http://press.regus.com/hong-kong/toostressedtogiveyourbest%3f/.

Towers Watson (2014). Staying@WorkTM Report: The Business Value of a Healthy Workforce – A Global Perspective. https://www.towerswatson.com/en/

Insights/IC-Types/Survey-Research-Results/2014/02/stayingatwork-report-business-value-of-a-healthy-workforce.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2015). At A Glance 2015: Workplace

Health Promotion – Using the Workplace to Improve the Nation’s Health. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/pdf/2015/aag-

workplace-health.pdf.