Mental well-being should be prioritized in the workplace
Governments can never be too relentless in attracting and retaining talent. Now considered as powerhouses of global economies, exceptional talents have been instrumental in injecting innovation, productivity and economic growth across multiple industries, making them a valuable currency. But even as employers scramble to hire talents from all over the world, the post-pandemic reality demands a boost of productivity within existing talent clusters to recover economic losses born since the onset of COVID-19. What we need is a fundamental reimagination of talent productivity — by empowering individuals in their mental well-being capacity at the heart of the workplace.
To capitalize on this notion, we need to evaluate the landscape of mental well-being and how it impacts employee productivity. The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation publishes the seminal report known as the Global Burden of Disease, which evaluates 286 causes of death, 369 diseases and injuries, and 87 risk factors in 204 countries. Results reveal that about 15 percent of the global population of working-age adults battle with mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety. This has dire consequences and challenges for employees as they seek to perform productively at work over a long period of time. Absenteeism and employee turnover naturally ensue, which have a negative effect on employers and economies.
Last month, the World Health Organization issued a report on the state of employee mental well-being around the world. It revealed that lost productivity from depression and anxiety is costing the global economy a whopping $1 trillion due to an annual loss of 12 billion working days, with Gulf countries losing an approximate $3.5 billion.
At the same time, an individual’s state of mental well-being is also exacerbated by workplace settings and policies, which can directly contribute to poor mental health and dim employees’ creativity, productivity and performance. We can trace the disruption of mental well-being in the workplace to a number of influential factors. To illustrate, unreasonably heavy workloads and short deadlines can lead to elevated stress levels due to the pressures of delivering work expectations. Working long, inflexible and unsocial hours can also exacerbate employees’ health. Moreover, subjecting employees to discrimination, bullying, exclusion or abuse is another contributing factor to reduced mental well-being.
Working in poor physical conditions can also have a negative impact on employees’ health, such as places with poor lighting or limited natural light, excessive noise and poor ergonomics. Furthermore, a lack of clear communication on career progression, unfair financial compensation and underutilized skills can all dim an employee’s productivity. Additionally, an employee’s personal life can be jeopardized by a lack of flexible working arrangements, such as having to work away from home for long periods, strict measures regarding sick leave for oneself or to care for a sick family member, and a lack of flexible or remote working arrangements.
Considering the important role that employment plays in a person’s life and its role in contributing to economic growth and societal welfare, it is critical that policies are enacted to improve mental well-being in the workplace. A number of solutions are at hand that necessitate the active support of multiple stakeholders, including governments, employers and health professionals.
The world of work should embrace a more human-centric approach and be shaped in a way that is harmonious with a person’s personal life and commitments
Public policymakers and legislators should design nationally approved policies and legislation focusing on enhancing mental well-being in the workplace. Consulting a consortium of employers from across various industries will help fine-tune these guidelines and facilitate implementation later on. A mass media campaign promoting the principles and rights of employees to a more conducive workplace should be deployed and targeted at enterprises and workers alike. At the same time, enterprises should appoint or upskill human resource managers who have a strong background in deploying mental well-being policies and programs. Equally important is training supervisors in mental health literacy and managing related programs.
Vitally, the world of work should embrace a more human-centric approach and be shaped in a way that is harmonious with a person’s personal life and commitments. Introducing flexible working hours and remote working options can do wonders in enabling employees to balance all their personal and professional duties. Special leaves should be available for the carers of vulnerable dependents and family members, including children and elderly parents. Encouraging employees to take personal time off can also contribute to better health and positive outlooks.
Meanwhile, many fascinating studies have been published on how office design impacts employee well-being. Solutions include having sufficient natural lighting, interspersed plants, artworks, ergonomic furniture and an overall beautifully designed space. Designing recreational communal spaces can also promote social engagement and activity, such as having a library, a games room, a cafeteria or a garden. Offering subsidized subscriptions to local gyms can also be a great move to improve physical and mental well-being.
Moreover, it is critical for human resource departments to introduce well-being programs that equip employees with the skills to effectively deal with stress, financial issues, health challenges, family pressures or practical emotional support, while at the same time infusing them with the motivation to pursue their dreams and ambitions. Such illuminating content should also be made available on company intranets or digital applications for timely and easy access.
Inviting experts in on a regular basis to deliver practical talks on mental well-being can also be instrumental in disseminating practical advice. Putting in place legal frameworks for dealing with unfair treatment, offensive behavior and abuse should be mandatory for safeguarding employees’ rights to a healthy work setting. Another important intervention would be to secure mental health coverage in employee insurance packages.
These solutions create a new way to attract and retain talents who find the workplace a harmonious place that balances their personal and professional ambitions. By prioritizing mental well-being in the workplace, we can unlock talent potential and unleash high productivity, reaping massive economic rewards and elevated societal welfare.
• Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.