Mental well-being

By Carli Uys

Industrial Psychologist (PS 0151149) Head of Marketing, Research and Development (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

The traumatic events of the past 20 months (due to Covid-19) have had a negative impact on employees’ mental health. It has caused higher levels of stress and traumatic experiences that employees face at work as well as in their personal lives. When an employee experiences stress various approaches can be taken to help them manage their stress levels. However, when an employee experiences traumatic events they require a heightened level of care and support from the organisation. People dealing with trauma can often feel helpless, and employers need to make sure that they support these employees by providing mental health resources to proactively support these employees. An organisation that focuses on helping employees improve their mental well-being, has various processes in place that facilitates the healing process for the employee as well as helping them become more resilient as they navigate through the crisis and recovery.

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. Peak mental health is about not only avoiding active conditions but also looking after ongoing wellness and happiness. Mental health isn’t simply the absence of mental illness and living with a mental illness doesn’t mean you can’t have good mental health. Having good mental health does not mean that you will feel great all the time, you might experience stress, a difficult life event, or even burnout. Everyone an experience the ebbs and flow of well-being.

Good mental health includes:

  1. A sense of purpose
  2. Strong relationships
  3. Feeling connected to others
  4. Having a good sense of self
  5. Coping with stress
  6. Enjoying life

According to the World Health organization, mental health is:

  • More than the absence of mental disorders.
  • An integral part of health; there is no health without mental health.
  • Determined by a range of socioeconomic, biological, and environmental factors.

5 steps to mental well-being

Step 1: Connect with other people

Building good relationships with other people can help you build a sense of belonging and self-worth, give you opportunities to share positive experiences and provide you with emotional support and allow you to support others.

Step 2: Be physically active

Being physically active Is great for your physical health and fitness, as well as to improve your mental well-being. Being physically active can raise your self-esteem, help you set and achieve goals or challenges, and cause chemical changes in your brain which can help change your mood in a positive way.

Step 3: Learn new skills

Learning new skills can improve your mental well-being by boosting your self-confidence and raising your self-esteem, help you to build a sense of purpose, and help you to connect with other people.

Step 4: Give to others

Acts of giving and be kind to others can help improve your mental well-being by creating positive feelings and a sense of reward, giving you a feeling of purpose and self-worth, and help you connect with other people.

Step 5: Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

Paying more attention to your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you at the present moment can improve your mental well-being. Being mindful can help you to enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can also positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.

Work-related risk factors for mental health

According to WHO there are many risk factors related to mental health in the work environment, such as:

  • Interactions between type of work
  • The organisation and managerial environment
  • Skills and competencies of employees
  • Support available for employees to carry out their work
  • Inadequate health and safety policies
  • Poor communication and management practices
  • Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work
  • Low levels of support for employees
  • Inflexible working hours
  • Unclear tasks or organisational objectives
  • Job content
  • Unsuitable tasks for individual’s competencies
  • High and unrelenting workload

Some jobs may carry high personal risk that can cause symptoms of mental disorders or lead to harmful use of alcohol or psychoactive drugs. The risk may increase in situations where there is a lack of team cohesion or social support.

Organisations should focus on creating a strong workplace environment which is vital in increasing employee morale, productivity, and well-being. It is important for an organisation to establish the contributing factors that help to create a healthy workplace environment, such as the culture of the office, the physical environment, employee wellness and support.

The following are four aspects to look into when creating a healthy workplace environment:

Workplace culture: When an organisation creates a positive workplace culture that is being practiced by everyone in the organisation, then the environment in the workplace tends to be healthier as everyone would have nothing to be upset or unhappy about.

Physical environment and occupational health & safety: Organisations should look at reducing the worry of employees by looking into the safety of the workplace. Organisations should make sure that the environment the employees are working in is safe, and secure of any danger that might cause them physical or emotional harm.

Health and lifestyle practice: Employees will go above and beyond for the organisation if they know that they are being looked after by the organisation. Employees are the best assets of any organisation, and by putting effort into employees’ well-being can encourage better teamwork, increased productivity and reduce sick leave and workplace accidents.

Supportive workplace environment: Support employees with any personal problems they are facing by trying to find the core of the problem and be a supportive employer by showing concern. As an employer, show compassion to your employees and support them through their difficult time. Do not just focus on the progress of the organisation, but also care about the well-being of all the employees. A supportive workplace culture is the foundation of a healthy workplace environment.

40% of employees have reported that their jobs are highly stressful, while other employees have indicated that their jobs are the top stressors in their lives. Since job stress is a stronger predictor of health complaints than personal, financial or family problems, job stress is affecting the well-being of employees and can cause elevated healthcare costs, lost productivity and unwanted employee turnover. The following are ways in which employers can improve mental well-being in the workplace.

Help employees de-stress other employees: Organisations should help employees talk openly about mental health as it will contribute to employees’ mental well-being. Organisations should find ways to identify the issues employees are facing and indicate that acknowledging work-related stress is an acceptable topic of conversation. Employers should encourage employees to take regular breaks during the day, and spend a few relaxing minutes with co-workers. These types of informal relationships are an important foundation when employees work together on projects and tasks. It also helps to boost the morale of all the employees.

Encourage physical and emotional activity: Leaders should focus on encouraging healthy physical and emotional practices, as it will positively influence the entire workforce. When leaders introduce, and are involved in workplace health challenges, incentive programs and overall wellness programs not only does employee health improve but also reduces healthcare costs, and increases productivity and morale.

Provide mental wellness resources: Introduce various mental well-being programs into the workplace. These programmes can help employees build their resilience, life satisfaction, and lasting emotional health.

Provide an employee assistance program: Offer counselling and support services as it will improve corporate well-being.

Create a healthy work environment: The work environment has a significant impact on employee mental wellness, productivity, job turnover and overall profits. Leaders can influence a healthy workplace environment by having an open-door policy, keeping employees informed of developments, departmental changes, business goals and policies. These help to provide direction, build trust, and reduce employee stress.

Show you care: Caring is seen as an integral component of an organisation when individuals and groups of like-minded people understand and care for the values and situations of other individuals or groups. Care is demonstrated by expressing and accepting care in our personal and professional relationships. Organisations can show care through offering community service days, family activities, recognising excellent employer-employee cooperation, and promoting the voices of employees and management in community meetings and activities.

Organisations should recognise the intersection of race, ethnicity, and mental health. Organisations should focus on the fact that all their employees belong to different racial and ethnic groups, some even minority ethnic groups, and that these employees face significant disparities in both mental health challenges and access to mental health care. Organisations should take the necessary steps to build leaders’ cultural competencies that focuses on diversity in the organisation and creating inclusion initiatives that creates authentic change. Leaders should also focus on embracing the discomfort that arises from attending to negative feedback from their employees in racial and ethnic minorities. This feedback is extremely critical as it will help leaders establish enduring change in the workplace that values diversity and inclusion.

Mental well-being of employees should matter to all organisations. It can affect the lives of all the employees as well as their families, communities, productivity, organisation profit and overall success of the organisation.