Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

During an interview held by Mr Ockert Fourie (on behalf of My Safety Hub) with Nicolette Visser, Chief Wellness Coordinator at the Reality Wellness Group, they discussed the topic of addressing mental health in the workplace and employee wellness.

When asked about how employers can address mental health while managing other business demands, Visser emphasised the importance of understanding the business dynamic and finding reasonable accommodations that promote mental health without compromising business goals. She highlighted that mental health issues can impact performance and engagement, making it necessary for organisations to prioritise mental wellness by creating wellness policies and normalising conversations around mental health.

Regarding the concern of potential abuse by employees seeking time off under the pretext of mental health, Visser suggested implementing clear guidelines within wellness policies. She emphasised the need for trust in employees while also having consequence management in place to address any misuse. By understanding the time required for therapy sessions or visits to healthcare professionals, employers can identify any discrepancies in the time taken off and respond accordingly.

When asked about the current state of mental health awareness in South Africa, Visser acknowledged that mental health remains a contentious issue. Cultural differences and mental disparities contribute to the reluctance in addressing mental health. She highlighted the prevalence of certain mental health disorders, such as PTSD, in South Africa and expressed the need for open discussions on mental health issues. In terms of addressing mental health concerns, Visser emphasised that businesses should take ownership by developing comprehensive wellness policies that go beyond the minimum legal requirements. She encouraged business leaders to prioritise the psychological well-being and safety of their employees and extend this approach to businesses of all sizes.

Visser acknowledged the challenges faced by blue-collar workers who may not have access to medical aid or resources to afford psychiatric assistance. She emphasised the availability of free resources such as NGOs like SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group) and FAMSA (FAMSA Western Cape, Families South Africa, Western Cape) which offer counselling and support services. Additionally, she mentioned that businesses should consider implementing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide support to employees who may not have the means to access professional help independently.

Watch the complete interview here

Mental stress in the workplace can have far-reaching consequences for both businesses and employees. It affects productivity, engagement, and overall well-being, making it essential for organisations to prioritise mental health. By recognising the impact of mental stress and implementing appropriate solutions, businesses can create a healthier and more productive work environment while supporting their employees' mental well-being.

The Impact of Mental Wellness on Businesses:

Decreased Productivity: Mental stress can lead to decreased concentration, impaired decision-making, and reduced efficiency among employees. This ultimately affects overall productivity and hampers the organisation's ability to achieve its goals.

Increased Absenteeism: Persistent mental stress can contribute to higher rates of absenteeism as employees may take time off to cope with their mental health issues. Frequent absences disrupt workflow, increase workloads for other employees, and add financial burdens to the organisation.

Higher Turnover Rates: Employees experiencing chronic mental stress may feel compelled to seek alternative employment opportunities that offer a healthier work environment. High turnover rates impact business continuity, disrupt team dynamics, and incur recruitment and training costs.

The Impact of Mental Wellness on Employees:

Impaired Mental Well-being: Mental stress takes a toll on employees' mental health, leading to increased anxiety, depression, and burnout. It can negatively impact their overall quality of life, both at work and outside the workplace.

Strained Relationships: When employees are overwhelmed by mental stress, their ability to communicate and collaborate effectively may be compromised. This can strain relationships with colleagues, supervisors, and clients, potentially affecting teamwork and hindering the achievement of collective goals.

Decreased Job Satisfaction: Persistent mental stress can diminish job satisfaction and engagement, leading to a lack of motivation and a decline in the sense of fulfilment. This may result in decreased loyalty and commitment to the organisation.

Solutions for Improvement:

Promote Mental Health Awareness: Create a supportive culture that openly discusses mental health issues, reduces stigma, and encourages employees to seek help when needed. Educate employees on available resources and support systems.

Implement Wellness Programs: Develop comprehensive wellness programs that address various aspects of well-being, including mental health.

Foster Work-Life Balance: Encourage work-life balance by promoting flexible working arrangements, setting realistic deadlines, and discouraging excessive overtime. Establish boundaries to help employees disconnect from work during non-working hours, allowing them to recharge and maintain their mental well-being.

Supportive Leadership: Train managers and supervisors to recognise signs of mental stress in employees and provide appropriate support. Encourage open communication, empathetic listening, and the availability of resources to assist employees in managing their mental health.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Offer EAPs to provide confidential counselling and support services for employees facing mental health challenges. EAPs can provide a valuable resource for employees who may not have access to external mental health support.

Addressing mental stress in the workplace is crucial for both the well-being of employees and the success of businesses. By understanding the impact of mental stress and implementing solutions that prioritise mental health, organisations can create a supportive environment that fosters productivity, engagement, and overall employee well-being. Through collective efforts, businesses can cultivate a culture that values mental health, leading to happier, healthier employees and a more prosperous work environment.