Why We Need to Talk Often about Mental Health at the Workplace

Companies need to look at the health and safety of workers more holistically, and address not just physical welfare but also emotional well being
Why We Need to Talk Often about Mental Health at the Workplace
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Former Features Editor, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific
4 min read

 

We live in a 24-hour culture, where work never leaves us. In the garb of emails, WhatsApp messages and Skype calls, the office follows us everywhere like our own shadow. Increasing competition across the world has put companies under immense pressure to cut costs and raise productivity. Small wonder then most of us are always stressed.

If not taken into account, such a stressful working environment can affect an employees' mental well-being, result in physical health problems, and even make people turn to alcohol or other substances.

The work of stress

Over 300 million people across the world suffer from depression, with many also suffering from symptoms of anxiety. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Another research says one in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

 “What happens in a day of life at work? It’s so different now…. We were taught to believe that you can leave your problems at home and come and focus on the work, now your problems walk with you every day, every minute, every hour, and it’s because in a large part of the technology and the connections,” said Bernard Tyson, the chief executive of health company Kaiser Permanente, at a recent discussion as part of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

A 2015 white paper by Jennifer J. Deal, “Always On, Never Done? Don’t Blame the Smartphone”, found that professionals, managers, and executives who carry smartphones report interacting with work a whopping 13.5 hours every workday, (72 hours per week including weekend work). “In essence, technology and the ‘always on’ expectations of professionals enable organizations to mask poor processes, indecision, dysfunctional cultures, and subpar infrastructure because they know that everyone will pick up the slack,” it says.

Health matters

John Flint, the chief executive of HSBC, aspires to turn the bank into the “the healthiest human system”. “This will be the most critical enabler of our business strategy. The suggestion that this is in some way in competition with the hard-edged, competitive, testosterone-driven nature of banking, I don’t agree with at all,” he said at the Davos discussion.

"I know personally the profound difference between being at my best and not at my best. We know that fear is terribly important when it comes to decision-making. How do we rethink people policies that allow individuals to really breathe, to have a sense of wholeness and of being in charge of their lives,” he asked.  

One way to ensure better workplace culture is removing the stigma attached to mental health.

 “Within our system of 230,000 people we do have people who have survived and come out the other side… I’ve learned that those who have recovered often possess a resilience and a resourcefulness, and an interest in human nature, an empathy and an EQ which most of us don’t possess. I regard the survivors as an absolute asset.”

Another suggestion is reducing work hours, as suggested by Adam Grant, best-selling author and professor of management and psychology at Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, in a separate discussion at Davos.

 “We have some good experiments showing that if you reduce work hours, people are able to focus their attention more effectively, they end up producing just as much, often with higher quality and creativity, and they are also more loyal to the organizations that are willing to give them the flexibility to care about their lives outside of work,” he said.

 

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